Former Maldives president injured in 'assassination attempt'

a person standing in front of a building: Soldiers secure a site after a bomb blast injured former Maldives president and current parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed © - Soldiers secure a site after a bomb blast injured former Maldives president and current parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed

A bomb blast injured former Maldives president and current parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed on Thursday, officials and residents said.

The 53-year-old pro-democracy pioneer was about to get into his car in the congested capital when a bomb rigged to a motorcycle was detonated, officials said.

"Nasheed escaped an assassination attempt," a Maldivian government official told AFP by telephone. "He is injured, but his condition is stable."

Armed police units and security forces cordoned off the area where the attack took place. 

The Indian Ocean nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims is known for its regular political turmoil as well as its luxury holiday resorts.

Police confirmed that Nasheed sustained injuries but did not give details. They said he was being treated at the ADK Hospital in Male.

Officials said the Maldivian parliament, which was in recess, called an emergency meeting following the attack.

The blast came just before a night curfew was due to go into effect in the capital as part of measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. The archipelago of 26 atolls is battling a surge in infections concentrated on Male.

A family member said Nasheed had sustained several wounds.

"They have put him under anaesthesia. There is a deeper cut on one of his arms," the family member told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said Nasheed was responsive and spoke with doctors as he was taken in with shrapnel injuries. One of his bodyguards was also taken to hospital.

Residents in Male said the blast was heard across the capital.

Nasheed is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who became the country's first democratically elected president in the first multi-party elections in 2008.

He was toppled in a coup in 2012 and was sentenced to 13 years prison in 2015 on terrorism charges slammed as politically motivated  by civil rights groups. 

President Abdulla Yameen let him leave for medical treatment and Nasheed went into exile in Britain, but he returned home in 2018.

Nasheed has opposed heavy borrowing from China under Yameen's administration, accusing the former strongman of mortgaging the island paradise to Beijing for infrastructure projects.

Nasheed became parliament speaker, the nation's second most powerful position, following 2019 polls.

Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid strongly condemned the attack in a Twitter statement.

"Cowardly attacks like these have no place in our society. My thoughts and prayers are with President Nasheed and others injured in this attack, as well as their families."

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said he was "deeply concerned" at the attack on Nasheed.

"Wish him a speedy recovery. Know that he will never be intimidated," Jaishankar said on Twitter.

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Former Maldives president injured in 'assassination attempt'