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The Maldives’ chief law enforcement officer says the nation’s Supreme Court is trying to remove President Abdulla Yameen, days after the top court ordered the release of several jailed opposition leaders.

“The Maldives is heading towards a crisis,” Mohamed Anil, the attorney general, said on state TV on Sunday.

Flanked by the chief of the army and the police, Anil said the security forces have learned that “the Supreme Court may issue an order to impeach the president”.

“I have informed all law enforcement agencies they must not obey such an illegal order.”

Tensions are escalating in the island nation’s capital, Male, as Yameen’s government continues to ignore a court ruling overturning terrorism and corruption convictions against nine high-profile politicians, including exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Anil’s statement “represents an unconstitutional, highly illegal, and dangerous attempt” to usurp the powers of the judiciary, a joint opposition alliance said in a statement, as Nasheed urged rank and file members of the security forces to arrest Anil and the chiefs of the police and army.

Speaking to a private television channel from Colombo, Nasheed urged members of the security forces “not to obey the orders of the attorney general” and “arrest all three of them immediately”.

He also called on Maldivians living in the country’s far-flung islands to travel to the capital and protest against the government.

“Neither the attorney general, nor the chief of defence forces, nor the acting police chief can override the constitution of the Maldives,” he said.

“I urge Maldivian citizens to take to the streets against their illegal actions.”

The latest crisis was triggered on Thursday when judges of the Supreme Court turned against their ally Yameen and ordered the release of his opponents. The surprise verdict prompted celebrations and sporadic protests in Male and drew widespread international support.

Antonio Guterres, UN chief, added his voice to the chorus of calls urging Yameen to comply with the Supreme Court ruling late on Friday.

But the 58-year-old leader of the Maldives, who critics accuse of corruption and misrule, remained defiant as he made his first public appearance since the court order on Saturday.

“President Yameen is not a person to flee at such a difficult time for the public,” he told a group of cheering supporters outside the ruling party headquarters in Male.

“The president and the state must be afforded time to speak with the Supreme Court to take measures to comply with its rulings,” he said, adding that he will “check how this came to happen”.

The speech came hours after he fired his second police chief in three days, and cancelled the opening of the parliament, scheduled for Monday.

The opposition has a majority in the 85-member house as the Supreme Court also reinstated 12 legislators who had been stripped of their seats when they defected from the ruling party.

Meanwhile, the police have accused the chief justice and a second judge on the five-member Supreme Court bench of corruption, and raided the home of the chief judicial administrator.

On Sunday, Anil said he has ordered the security forces to stop any unrest in the capital.

Army chief, Ahmed Shiyam, said security forces “cannot watch and wait as the Maldives goes into crisis”.

He added: “We will follow the attorney general’s legal advice and we will not obey any illegal orders.”

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