MALE (Reuters) - Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed no longer faces arrest, a government spokesman said on Thursday, a day after Nasheed took refuge in India's embassy because he feared being detained and his supporters clashed with police outside.
Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected leader, who left office last year in contested circumstances, entered the Indian High Commission as police attempted to arrest him in connection with a court case.
His supporters, who say Nasheed was ousted last February in a coup, have frequently clashed with security forces in the Indian Ocean archipelago which is best known as a luxury holiday destination.
Police arrested 16 protesters near the High Commission on Wednesday on charges of obstructing police duty, breaking police cordons, entering closed areas and threatening officers. All arrested were later released, police said in a release.
"Nasheed's arrest warrant has ceased and he won't be arrested," Imad Masood, spokesman for President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, told Reuters.
"He was asked by the court to be arrested and produced on Wednesday to appear in a case against him. But since the court case time has elapsed, the arrest warrant also has ceased automatically."
"The court will now announce a fresh date for the hearing and Nasheed can appear without being arrested," Masood said.
A court had ordered Nasheed's arrest after he missed a February 10 court appearance in a case relating to accusations that he illegally detained a judge during the last days of his rule.
If he is found guilty, Nasheed could be barred from standing in a presidential election on September 7. His party says the trial is an attempt to exclude him from the contest and has challenged the court's legitimacy.
India's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed concern over political instability and called on the government of the Maldives "to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law".
Nasheed says he was forced from power at gunpoint after opposition protests and a police mutiny. A national commission last August said the toppling of his government was not a coup, a ruling that triggered several days of demonstrations.
"An interim, caretaker government should be established that can lead the Maldives to genuinely free and fair elections, in which all candidates are freely able to compete," Nasheed said in a statement, calling for President Waheed to resign.
The Maldives held its first free elections in 2008. Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years and was accused by opponents and international human rights groups of running the country as a dictator.
(Reporting by J.J. Robinson in MALE and Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO; Writing by Henry Foy; Editing by Robert Birsel)