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In Maldives, political standoff threatens safety of press

Police chase supporters of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned on Tuesday. (AP/Sinan Hussain)

New York, February 10, 2012--The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on all parties involved in the ongoing political dispute in Maldives to respect the role of the media in covering the protests and stop the attacks on journalists and news outlets. After political violence escalated in the wake of former President Mohamed Nasheed's resignation on Tuesday, at least two TV stations were attacked, according to news reports.

The state-run Maldives National Broadcasting Commission TV outlet was attacked on Tuesday by protesters who renamed the station "Television Maldives," the outlet's name under the rule of the former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and broadcast interviews and patriotic songs, news reports said.

Protesters also attacked and set fire to the privately owned station VTV as it aired live footage of clashes between the ruling and opposition parties, the Maldives Journalists Association reported. Some journalists were seriously injured in the attack, and the station's equipment was destroyed, the group said.

"While the political situation in Maldives remains unresolved, it is more important than ever that its citizens have access to media that are free to report openly on the course of events," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "All sides to the dispute in the country must respect the role of journalists and refrain from attacking or threatening them."

Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, resigned on February 7 after weeks of protests over his decision to arrest a criminal court chief justice, according to news reports. In a New York Times op-ed, Nasheed said he was ousted at gunpoint, and accused Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan of masterminding the coup that led to his resignation, news reports said. Hassan, who has been sworn in as president, denied the accusation, news reports said.

Nasheed has called for snap elections to resolve the political standoff, but Hassan said the current environment in the Maldives was not conducive to holding "free and fair" elections, the BBC reported.

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