Maldives protests at Indian protection for ex-leader

The Maldives has summoned India's ambassador and made a strong protest over a standoff involving opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed who has taken refuge in the Indian embassy, an official said Monday.

The former president has been in the embassy since Wednesday to evade arrest after he failed to appear in court on charges which his party considers politically motivated and designed to disqualify him from politics.

The foreign ministry summoned Indian High Commissioner D.M. Mulay Sunday to receive a formal protest over his chancery being used to "instigate violence and instability" in the capital island, an official source said.

The source told AFP that the Maldives had urged New Delhi to "stop interfering" in local politics and to uphold diplomatic norms and international law.

Presidential press secretary Masood Imad confirmed that a "very strong protest" had been delivered to the Indian envoy on Sunday.

The Indian government urged its tiny neighbour last week to guarantee "the integrity of the electoral process" before presidential polls in September, but has denied interfering.

"We now find ourselves in a situation and we have to try to work at a best solution to it," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told AFP in New Delhi on Monday.

"Everyone recognises the sensitivity of this issue," he added.

The episode has further strained ties after the Maldivian government last December expelled an Indian-led consortium which ran the privatised Male international airport.

The Maldivian government has said that Nasheed is free to walk out of the embassy because a warrant against him expired on Wednesday.

He is being tried in a magistrates' court on charges of abusing his power after he won the island nation's first free elections in 2008.

The former pro-democracy activist was ousted last year by violent protests and by a mutiny by police and security forces.

The United States and the United Nations have joined India in calling for free elections.