MALE, Maldives — A tense calm settled over the rainy Maldives capital Thursday, one day after rioters rampaged through its streets to demand the return of ex-President Mohamed Nasheed after what he says was his ouster earlier in the week.
The streets of the country's main island were crowded with commuters, and officials of the new government — which maintains that Nasheed resigned voluntarily — say the violence has stopped on outlying islands after more than a dozen police stations were destroyed by pro-Nasheed protesters.
But the new defense minister vowed to punish those responsible for Wednesday's violence on the Indian Ocean archipelago, a mostly Muslim nation of 300,000 that is home to dozens of high-end luxury resorts. He called the destruction "acts of terrorism."
"The Maldives national defense force remains vigilant in enforcing the law and order and upholding the constitution of the Maldives," Mohammed Nazin told reporters Thursday, barely 12 hours into his new job.
What exactly happened to Nasheed, a onetime human rights campaigner, remained unclear. He resigned Tuesday, after police joined months of street protests against his rule and soldiers defected, but insisted he had not been forced from power. He was replaced by his vice president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.
On Wednesday, though, Nasheed said he had been ousted in a coup, and his supporters swept into the streets of Male and rampaged through a series of small, remote islands.
The new president insists there was no coup.
Maldives police commissioner Abdullah Riyaz said 18 police stations on several islands, along with an undetermined number of court houses and police vehicles, were destroyed in the violence. Police said they detained 49 people after the Male rioting.
The rights group Amnesty International put at least some blame on the new government, saying Maldivian security forces attacked Nasheed's supporters Wednesday, failed to protect them from counter-demonstrators and detained five members of parliament.
The rights group called on the new government to investigate the attack and ensure freedom of expression in the Indian Ocean island nation.
"We will come to power again," Nasheed said Wednesday. "We will never step back. I will not accept this coup and will bring justice to the Maldivians."
The Maldives is made up of nearly 1,200 scattered islands, some of which have just a few hundred residents.
Nasheed's party insisted his ouster was engineered by rogue elements of the police and supporters of the country's former autocratic leader, whom Nasheed defeated in the Maldives' first multiparty elections in 2008. Others blamed Islamic extremists in the Muslim country where some have demanded more conservative government policies.
Hassan, who was Nasheed's vice president, denied claims there was a coup or a plot to oust Nasheed. He said he had not prepared to take over the country and called for a unity coalition to be formed to help it recover.
"Together, I am confident, we'll be able to build a stable and democratic country," Hassan said, adding that his government intended to respect the rule of law.
The military denied that it forced Nasheed to resign at gunpoint. "There is no officer in the military that would point a gun toward the president," said Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Didi. "The military did not call for his resignation, he resigned voluntarily."
Police official Abdul Mannan Yousuf promised investigations into complaints of excessive use of force.
Before the clashes, Nasheed demanded Hassan's immediate resignation as he spoke to about 2,000 wildly cheering members of his Maldivian Democratic Party in Male. Police later fired tear gas at the demonstrators.
"If the police are going to confront us we are going to face them," Nasheed told the rally.
Nasheed's supporters began rioting, throwing fire bombs and vandalizing a private TV station that had been critical of Nasheed's government.
Reeko Moosa Manik, a lawmaker and chairman of the party, was beaten unconscious by police and hospitalized, said his son Mudrikath Moosa. Nasheed and other lawmakers were beaten as well, he said.
Hassan, who had promised to protect Nasheed from retribution, said his predecessor was not under any restriction and was free to leave the country. However, he said he would not interfere with any police or court action against Nasheed.
Police were investigating the discovery of at least 100 bottles of alcohol inside a truck removing garbage Tuesday from the presidential residence as Nasheed prepared to relinquish power, said Shyam, the police spokesman. Consuming alcohol outside tourist resorts is a crime punished with jail time and even banishment to a distant island.
Nasheed's resignation marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who had been jailed for his activism. He is also an environmental celebrity for urging global action against climate change, warning that rising sea levels would inundate his archipelago nation.
Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies. Last month, Nasheed's government arrested the nation's top criminal court judge for freeing a government critic and refused to release him as protests grew.