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Maldives: Supreme Court judges arrested amid political crisis

Maldivian police stand guard on a main street during a protest by opposition supporters

Male, Feb 6 (UITV/IANS) - Maldives police have arrested the country's chief justice of the Supreme Court as the political crisis worsened in the Indian Ocean nation.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge, Ali Hameed, were arrested hours after the government declared a state of emergency, BBC reported on Tuesday.

No details were given about the investigation or any charges.

The turmoil began when President Abdulla Yameen refused to obey a court order to release political dissidents.

The opposition have called the government moves a "purge" and there has been international condemnation.

Maldives is a nation is made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 individual islands, and tourism is a vital part of its economy.

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the release of a group of opposition politicians. It also ruled that the 2015 trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who is living in exile, had been unconstitutional.

It was followed by a pledge from the country's police commissioner that he would enforce the court's ruling. In response, the government of President Adulla Yameen sacked him.

The army has now been ordered to resist any attempt to impeach or remove President Yameen.

The crisis escalated on Monday when a state of emergency was declared, giving a range of powers to the security forces to make arrests, and banning public gatherings.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has allied himself with the opposition, was detained at his home.

In a video posted online the ex-president addresses his supporters (in Dhivehi), saying that he has not "done anything to warrant arrest" and urging them to "remain strong".

Police were also dispatched to the Supreme Court.

Last week's Supreme Court ruling very much caught the government on the back foot but it had been difficult to see how they would manage to avoid implementing it in the face of domestic and international pressure. With drastic measures, it seems.

President Yameen clearly saw a threat to his rule and is pulling no punches in fending off the challenge.

The mood has turned from tense to fearful. More arrests are expected to take place overnight.

Maldivians are passing around messages telling one another to "be safe". With many constitutional rights suspended, there is little protection.

Nasheed - the country's first democratically elected leader whose trial was at the centre of the Supreme Court's ruling - told BBC News that the government's actions were "brazenly illegal" and amounted to a coup.

"Maldivians have had enough of this criminal and illegal regime," he said. "President Yameen should resign immediately."

Since President Yameen took power in 2013 the country has faced questions over freedom of speech, the detention of opponents and the independence of the judiciary.

The US State Department said it was "troubled and disappointed" by the developments.