Sri Lanka ready to welcome toppled Maldives strongman

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The defeated strongman of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, is welcome in neighbouring Sri Lanka, Colombo said Tuesday, two days after his surprise defeat in presidential elections.

Sri Lanka has long been a haven for dissidents from the nearby Maldives over years of political upheaval, including for hundreds of opponents of Yameen since he became president in 2013.

In a phone call on Monday, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe “informed Mr. Yameen that he is welcome in Colombo at any time,” the premier’s office said.

Wickremesinghe made the call after hosting Yameen’s arch rival and former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed at a luncheon meeting on Monday.

Nasheed, the atoll nation’s first democratically elected leader, was sentenced to 13 years in jail after narrowly losing the 2013 elections to Yameen.

He fled to London where he sought refuge and now lives in Sri Lanka.

Sunday’s election was held with all key opposition leaders behind bars or in exile, leaving the little-known Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to challenge Yameen.

In a major upset, Solih won with 58 percent of the vote.

Solih’s victory was greeted warmly by India as Yameen had drifted closer to China, borrowing heavily from New Delhi’s regional rival to invest in infrastructure.

Declaring victory, Solih demanded Yameen immediately release all political prisoners in the country. A Maldivian court freed five of them on Monday night.

Many more are still in jail, including Yameen’s estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 80, who is expected to be released shortly.

Under intense international pressure, Yameen conceded defeat and pledged to allow a peaceful transition when he formally steps down on November 17.

Rights group Amnesty International called Tuesday on Solih to “break with the repression and human rights violations of the past and chart a fresh course where human rights are at the heart” of government policy.

The European Union, which had earlier threatened sanctions, said Monday that it would “continue to closely review the situation”.

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