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US concerned by Maldives leader’s stay beyond term

– The United States expressed concerned over the Maldives president’s extended stay in office, saying the move would endanger the Maldivians’ right to elect a new leader.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, whose term officially ended Sunday, has said he was staying to avert a constitutional void since a court postponed the presidential runoff. He also said he intended to oversee the runoff now scheduled for this Saturday.

His decision came despite a U.N. official’s urging that an interim government be established until an elected president could be sworn in.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Hassan’s decision to remain past the legal mandate of his presidency has “endangered the Maldivian people’s right to elect a leader of their choice.

“The democratic process must be supported by quickly concluding a free, fair, transparent and inclusive runoff election that results in the prompt inauguration of the new president,” she stressed on Monday.

In last Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first democratically elected president and the brother of a former autocratic ruler qualified for the runoff. It was scheduled for the next day, but the Supreme Court postponed it, the latest in a series of obstacles in electing a president.

Hassan’s decision has the potential to exacerbate an already volatile political situation. After his announcement, hundreds of supporters of former President Mohamed Nasheed poured into the streets to demand Hassan’s resignation, throwing stones and bottles at police.

Nasheed won nearly 47 percent of the vote in the election, while Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, the brother of 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, trailed with 30 percent. Businessman Qasim Ibrahim, had 23 percent.

The Supreme Court ruled for the delay after a member of Ibrahim’s Jumhoory Party argued there was little time to campaign or forge alliances.

Some 240,000 people in this Indian Ocean archipelago nation were eligible to vote, and about 86 percent voted.