COLOMBO - Police armed with pickaxes and power tools have destroyed a modern artwork by a celebrated British sculptor in the Maldives, after the outgoing president in the tourist haven declared the installation offensive to Islam.

Abdulla Yameen in July ordered the sculptures demolished but his ruling was not acted upon until Friday, on the eve of a presidential election which he lost to a liberal candidate.

A series of statues by Jason deCaires Taylor were placed inside a semi-submerged metal cube in July at a resort in the Maldives, an archipelago of 340,000 Muslims popular with tourists.

Islam, the official religion in the Maldives, bans the depiction of idols, and the work provoked some criticism from clerics even though the statues have no religious symbols or meaning.

Yameen said in July that “significant public sentiment” against the artwork known as ‘Coralarium’ had guided his decision to destroy it.

It is unclear why the sculptures were not raised from the waters until Friday, just two days before Yameen was turfed out of office.

Police were photographed chipping away at the works with pickaxes and using power tools to remove them from the large and ornate cage housing them. A video posted by state media showed several men tearing a statue off a plinth.