- Associated Press - Thursday, November 1, 2018

MALE, Maldives (AP) - The first democratically elected president of the Maldives returned home Thursday after more than two years in exile to escape a long prison term.

The plane carrying Mohamed Nasheed from Sri Lanka landed in Maldives’ capital, Male, where he was welcomed by his party members and supporters.

He traveled to the capital island from the airport, which is built on a separate island, in a boat parade.

Later he addressed his supporters and held a news conference in which he criticized outgoing President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration as “authoritarian” which has put the country under a heavy debt burden.

Yameen’s government had signed a number of infrastructure projects funded by China, which Nasheed had criticized before as akin to a land grab.

Nasheed also said there was enough evidence of alleged corruption and misrule against Yameen to prosecute him.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 2015 after being convicted of terrorism for ordering the arrest of a top judge in 2012 while he was president. His trial was criticized internationally for lack of due process, along with those of many other political opponents jailed by Yameen’s administration.

He was offered asylum in Britain when he traveled there for medical treatment on leave from prison.

Nasheed’s return follows Yameen’s defeat in the Sept. 23 presidential election by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the candidate of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.

Since Yameen’s defeat, courts have freed or granted bail to some of the jailed officials.

The Supreme Court earlier this week suspended Nasheed’s prison sentence until it reviews his conviction at the request of the country’s prosecutor general, a move to prevent his arrest on arrival.

Two other people - an opposition party leader and a former vice president who was Yameen’s running mate in the 2103 presidential election - earlier returned from exile.

Nasheed, a former pro-democracy activist, was elected president in the country’s first multiparty election in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. He became popular internationally as an environment crusader, holding an underwater Cabinet meeting to highlight the perils of rising sea levels caused by global warming and their impact on the archipelago nation composed of coral masses just a few meters (feet) above sea level.

He resigned in 2012 amid public protests against his order to arrest the senior judge and lost the 2103 election to Yameen.

Meanwhile, president-elect Solih’s nominee was elected speaker with an overwhelming majority Thursday, in the first test of strength in the Maldives parliament since the election.

Qasim Ibrahim, who is a coalition partner with Solih won the vote 62 votes for him and 16 against in the 85-member parliament. Ibrahim has returned from exile in Germany after Solih’s election victory.

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