The Maldives' first democratically elected president resigned Tuesday after a police mutiny described by his office as an attempted coup, capping three weeks of political upheaval in the holiday paradise.
"It will be better for the country in the current situation if I resign. I don't want to run the country with an iron-fist. I am resigning," President Mohamed Nasheed told a televised press conference.
Early Tuesday, rebel police officers joined anti-government protests that have rocked the capital Male for the past three weeks. They later took over state television and began broadcasting an opposition channel.
Army spokesman Colonel Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef told AFP that troops had used tear gas and rubber bullets during clashes with the protesters and police in the crowded capital Male.
"The sporadic clashes began after midnight and continued until 8:00 a.m.," Latheef said.
A presidential official described the unrest as "an attempted coup" by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who Nasheed turfed out of power in the country's first democratic presidential elections in 2008.
Army spokesman Latheef stressed there had been no military takeover, although the defence forces had "advised" Nasheed to resign. "It is not a coup. Definitely not a coup," he added.
Vice President Mohamed Waheed was later sworn in as the new head of state, while the government urged the population of 300,000 Sunni Muslims to remain calm.
Opposition demands for Nasheed to step down escalated after he ordered the arrest last month of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed on charges of misconduct and favouring opposition figures.
There have also been demonstrations by Islamic fundamentalists against the government, particularly over the transport ministry's decision to allow direct flights from Israel.
The leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party, which has accused Nasheed of being under the influence of Jews and Christians, called on the military to detain him, adding that he should face charges of "corruption and misuse of power."
The main opposition Progressive Party, headed by Gayoom, said that Nasheed was at his home and is "being allowed to communicate with people outside."
The Maldives, a country of 1,192 Indian Ocean islands scattered across the equator, is dependent on tourism and is famous for its upmarket holiday resorts and hotels that cater for honeymooning couples and high-end travelers.
Travel agencies said there were already signs the unrest and instability were putting off tourists, which are a vital source of revenue for a country that demanded a bail-out from the International Monetary Fund in 2009.
Konica Kapoor, a tour executive at Flexi Tours travel agency based in New Delhi, said four or five honeymooning couples who had booked trips last month had already pulled out.
"They called up this morning to cancel their trip," she told AFP.
A delegation from the UN Department of Political Affairs headed by Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco had been due to arrive on Thursday in a bid to broker a resolution to the political crisis.
Regional power India, which intervened to prevent a coup in the Maldives in 1988, said that the resignation was "an internal matter," adding that it hoped "all issues will be resolved in a peaceful and democratic manner."
Nasheed, a father of two daughters, rose from grassroots political opposition to the autocratic regime of Gayoom.
He formed his Maldivian Democratic Party in exile but then returned home to a hero's welcome, sweeping 54 percent of the vote in the 2008 elections whose results brought people out in into the street dancing and cheering.
The media-savvy leader used his mandate to build a reputation internationally as a committed campaigner against climate change.
In 2009, he held an underwater cabinet meeting in an effort to highlight the danger of rising sea levels and also announced he wanted to buy a new homeland to relocate the entire population of his country.
Problems, including high youth unemployment, widespread illegal drug use, and an increasing rise in Islamic fundamentalism have fueled discontent with his rule.