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In US, Maldives ex-leader urges vote, climate action

March 29, 2012

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed -AFP Photo

NEW YORK: The recently ousted president of Maldives on Wednesday pressed for new elections and urgent action on climate change as he took his often lonely campaign to a top-watched US television show.

Mohamed Nasheed, promoting a new film on his fight against climate change, appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” where the host started by offering the audience a quick introduction to the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Nasheed, who became Maldives' first democratically elected leader following multi-party elections in October 2008, insisted his resignation last month was due to a coup by supporters of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“We want a free and fair election. We want your government to back that. We were shocked to see that the United States government was so quick in recognizing” the new government, Nasheed said.

Nasheed acknowledged that the United States backtracked from its initial acceptance of the new Maldives government, but said: “We hope that they would more robustly assist us in trying to get the elections done there.”

Nasheed has said that he was ousted after some 300 soldiers, backed by Islamic radicals and local businessmen staged a mutiny that capped three weeks of anti-government protests.

The United States, the European Union and India have all called for early elections. But the new administration of President Mohamed Waheed says an early vote is not possible unless all parties agree to amend the constitution.

Nasheed was visiting the United States for the release of the documentary “The Island President,” an account of his diehard international campaign to fight global warming. The film was completed before Nasheed was ousted.

Nasheed has warned that Maldivians risk becoming the world's first mass climate refugees, with rising seas on track to submerge the archipelago, which rises to just two meters (six and a half feet) above sea level.

“The science is very sorted. If we are unable to do something during the next seven years, we will be in serious trouble,” Nasheed said.

“What happens to the Maldives today is going to happen to everyone else tomorrow. Manhattan is an island and I don't think that island is much different,” he said.

Nasheed, who once conducted an underwater cabinet meeting to dramatize the fight against climate change, said that political leaders in major carbon-emitting nations have only looked at short-term interests.

“I'm afraid the American people are not telling their leaders enough on what to do with climate change,” Nasheed said.