NEW DELHI — The Indian government Feb. 5 cautioned citizens against traveling to the Maldives after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom declared a state of emergency amid a political crisis in the country.
"The prevailing political developments in Maldives and the resultant law and order situation is a matter of concern for the government of India," the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
"Indian nationals are, therefore, advised to defer all non-essential travels to Male and other atolls until further notice.
"Indian expatriates in Maldives are also alerted to the need for heightened security awareness, and urged to exercise due caution in public and avoid public gatherings."
Yameen officially announced that the Maldives was in a state of emergency for the duration of 15 days starting the night of Feb. 5.
The state of emergency gives security officials extra powers to arrest suspects, the BBC reported.
The Maldives has been facing days of unrest after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last week to release top opposition political leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, saying they must be freed until fair trials can be conducted without undue influence.
The government has already suspended Parliament and ordered the army to resist any moves by the Supreme Court to impeach the president.
India Feb. 2 called for peace and stability in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.
"In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court," the External Affairs said in a statement.
It also called upon the Maldivian authorities to ensure the safety and security of Indian expatriates in the Maldives under all circumstances.
"As a close and friendly neighbor, India wishes to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Maldives," the statement said.
The Associated Press adds that hours after the emergency was declared, soldiers forced their way into the Supreme Court building, where the judges were believed to be taking shelter, said Ahmed Maloof, an opposition member of Parliament.
The surprise Supreme Court ruling last week ordering the release of imprisoned opposition leaders has led to growing turmoil, with President Yameen Abdul Gayoom lashing out at the court, opposition protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Malé, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting.
The emergency decree gives the government sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restricts freedom of assembly, officials said.
Hours after it was declared, the soldiers forced their way into the court building, Maloof said. The government did not immediately comment on soldiers going inside the building.
The president’s main rival urged people not to obey what he called an “unlawful order.”
“This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal,” former President Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, said in a statement. Nasheed, who lives in exile, was one of the opposition leaders that the court ordered freed.
The Supreme Court ruled that the politicians’ guilty verdicts had been politically influenced. The ruling has led to protests by opposition supporters urging the government to obey the order.
Clashes have erupted between police and the opposition supporters. Soldiers have occupied the parliament building to stop lawmakers from entering.
The United Nations and several foreign governments, including the United States, have urged the Maldives to respect the court order.
Nasheed has been living in exile in Britain since 2016 after being given asylum when he traveled there on medical leave from prison.
In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which could result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president.
Known for its luxury tourist resorts, the Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule by the current president’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
But the nation lost much of its democratic gains after Yameen, who has maintained a tight grip on power, was elected in 2013. He had been set to run for re-election this year virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.
On Feb. 2 Nasheed said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency this year. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted under the Maldives’ anti-terror laws. The trial was widely condemned by international rights groups.