Maldives President Abdulla Yameen

MALÉ, Maldives: Maldives President Abdulla Yameen refused yesterday to meet senior European diplomats who were the first foreign dignitaries to visit the troubled nation since his crackdown on the islands' judiciary. Envoys from the European Union, Germany and Britain arrived in the capital after top judges and several other dissidents were arrested this week, as Yameen appeared to gain the upper hand in a bitter power struggle. The tiny island nation has been grappling with a political crisis after the president refused to obey a Supreme Court order to release nine political prisoners and declared a state of emergency. The German Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jorn Rohde, said the trio requested meetings to discuss Yameen's crackdown on dissent which the UN human rights chief had dubbed "an all-out assault on democracy".

"Sadly the Maldivian government refuses dialogue today with my UK/EU colleagues... Our requests were unfortunately refused," Rohde said on Twitter. "That is surely not the way forward." The diplomats, based in neighboring Sri Lanka but also accredited to the Maldives, arrived in Male after the regime said it was open to foreign observers visiting the country.

However, foreign media have effectively been barred after authorities imposed tough visa conditions and warned they would take up to three weeks to process applications.

The UN has urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency, and was due to discuss the crisis gripping the Indian Ocean archipelago in a closed-door meeting at the Security Council yesterday.

"The Maldives have seen in recent years attacks on political opponents, on journalists, on civil society and human right defenders, and what is happening now is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Wednesday. Western governments, as well as neighboring India and China have asked their citizens not to go on holiday to the Maldives, a nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered 800-kilometres (550-miles) across the equator.

The crisis in the country of 340,000 Sunni Muslims came to a head a week ago when the Supreme court in a shock decision ordered Yameen to release all political dissidents after quashing their convictions. Yameen refused to comply and insisted that the court reverses its order.

Eventually he declared a state of emergency, took away the powers of the judiciary and parliament to impeach him and arrested the Chief Justice and another judge. He also arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his estranged half-brother who was the last remaining opposition figure in the country. All other key opponents of Yameen are either in jail or in exile. - AFP