COLOMBO - A court in the Maldives on Sunday ordered the arrest of the country’s first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed, who has challenged the legality of a criminal trial against him. The Hulhumale magistrates court issued the arrest warrant after Nasheed failed for a second time to show up before a special three-judge bench set up to try him for abuse of power when he was in office. A court official said the warrant asked police to “keep Mr Nasheed in custody until he is produced before the court”. There was no immediate reaction from Nasheed or his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which has made it clear that they will not abide by any decisions of the court.

Earlier in the day Nasheed said he was challenging the legality of the judicial process against him. “Questioning the legitimacy of the ad hoc magistrate court,” he said on Twitter. “I have appealed the case with the high court and I await a decision.” Official sources said his appeal had been rejected. Nasheed was travelling in the south of the island nation and would not return till Saturday, the MDP had said last week. Nasheed, who won the Maldives’ first democratic elections in 2008, maintains he will not get a fair trial. If convicted he could be jailed or banished to a remote island for three years, a punishment that could bar him from future elections. He resigned as president in February after what he described as a coup. The Indian Ocean archipelago - better known as a luxury tourism destination - has since been rocked by demonstrations and occasional violence.