Ex-Maldives President Nasheed Tells His Story

Tension has been high in the Maldives after Mohamed Nasheed resigned as president earlier this month. He later claimed that he was the victim of a coup, but his successor denies this. Nasheed talks to Renee Montagne about his situation, and what it means for the Indian Ocean islands.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A president of the Maldives made something of an international name for himself, trying to protect his nation of 1,000 islands from rising sea levels. Mohamed Nasheed once held a cabinet meeting underwater with his ministers and scuba gear to publicize the threat from climate change.

Two weeks ago, a different overtook Nasheed. He resigned from the presidency, saying he was the victim of a coup. Since coming to power in 2008, Nasheed had taken on corrupt judges and demanded that businesses pay more taxes, especially the country's mini island resort. We reached him in the capital of the Maldives, the city of Male.

Thank you for joining us.

MOHAMED NASHEED: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Now, let me - to give us a little background here, you were the first democratically elected president of The Maldives. Remind us what happened two weeks ago in this change of leadership that those who're in power now say you resigned willingly. You, though, say it was a coup.

NASHEED: I did not resign willingly. I was forced to resign. I was forced by the military and the police to get out. And this was a coup orchestrated by the previous order; the previous regime and the businessmen that have always - some of the businessmen that I've always been against. This was purely because of their vested interest.

MONTAGNE: Let me go back to your presence on the international stage. Up until now it was as something of an eco-warrior against climate change. And there is actually a new film coming out, called "The Island President," about you. It's due to be released next month. And let's play a clip from the film where you're being interviewed on British radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE ISLAND PRESIDENT")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can I ask how long you've been president?

NASHEED: Well, it's been seven months.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Seven months in. You had a long struggle to get there. I think you said you'd spent some time in jail for your political beliefs. And now you're fighting climate change. You do like a battle.

NASHEED: Well, it won't be any good to have democracy if we don't have a country.

I would like to also add the sentiments here are: It won't be any good to have a country if you don't have democracy now.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you about the nature of those who are in power right now. One of the complaints against you is that you've been criticized for being not Islamic enough, for being un-Islamic. Now, the Maldives is a tourist - one of its great industries is tourism. I gather there's alcohol allowed in tourist areas - that sort of thing.

Is that one of the areas that you think helped cause you to be toppled?

NASHEED: Well, basically the previous regime has always found a lot of fault in me. You must understand that I've been tortured twice by them before. And my spirit - and a fair amount of my other (unintelligible) in their presence - they don't necessarily like me at all. But they, for the coup, they banded together with the very small Islamic radical factions in the Maldives. They're not politically strong at all.

During the parliamentary elections, they did not win a single seat. So basically, the extreme religious elements here has no resonance with the people.

But the previous regime, for them to be able to muster this coup, they of course went into the strategy of being the savior of Islam in the Maldives. And the Maldives is an Islamic country; it has been that for the last 800 years. And it's a very tolerant version of Islam that we have here.

MONTAGNE: So, for you, what's ahead?

NASHEED: Well, we want to have early elections. We are hoping that there will be elections in July and that's what we're working at. We want the people of this country and to be able to decide on who should govern them.

MONTAGNE: And you are still free and staying in the capital?

NASHEED: Yeah, I have a court order on me but there are so many people who wouldn't want me take it in. I think the regime is a little reluctant to get at me right now.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

NASHEED: Thank you. Bye.

MONTAGNE: Mohamed Nasheed stepped down earlier this month from the presidency of the Maldives in what he calls a coup. He's the subject of a new documentary, "The Island President," made while he was still in office.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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