A state of emergency has been declared in the Maldives amid a spiralling political crisis.
The order gives security officials extra powers to arrest suspects and President Abdulla Yameen said it would restrict “certain rights” but asserted that “general movements, services and businesses will not be affected”.
It comes amid protests sparked after Mr Yameen defied a Supreme Court order last week to release jailed political opponents.
America stands with the people of Maldives. The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching.
— NSC (@WHNSC) 5 February 2018
Hours after the state of emergency was announced soldiers were seen forcing their way into the Supreme Court where judges are believed to be taking shelter, according to opposition member of parliament Ahmed Maloof.
Meanwhile, former president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has been arrested, according to his lawyer.
Another opposition leader and former president, Mohamed Nasheed, told Sky News that Mr Yameen’s order is “tantamount to a declaration of martial law in the Maldives”.
“This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal,” he said. “Nobody in the Maldives is required to, nor should follow the unlawful order.”
The US National Security council urged the country to “respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions”.
The Foreign Office has advised British holidaymakers in the country to “exercise caution” and to apply “appropriate security precautions”.
On Sunday, Mr Yameen’s government accused the Supreme Court of trying to impeach the President.
Attorney General Mohamad Anil told reporters that the police and security forces “will not obey an impeachment order form an illegitimate set of people, and the order to unseat the President is unconstitutional”.
Mr Nasheed was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives.
He claimed he was ousted and made to resign at gunpoint by police and military officers in February 2012. In 2015 he was convicted under the anti-terrorism act of Maldives and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Amnesty International has called his conviction “politically motivated”.
Under much international pressure the Maldivian government allowed him to travel to London for spinal surgery. He has been granted asylum and has been living in Britain since 2016.
The Maldives is a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean with a population of about 400,000, known mainly for its luxury resorts and sun-kissed white beaches.
Tourism is the mainstay of the economy, bringing in the much needed foreign exchange and generating employment.
Multi-party democracy is relatively new in the Maldives – about 10 years old after many decades of dictatorship rule of Maumoon Abdul Gafoor, the half-brother of the current president.
This recent crisis is being closely watched by the international community, including the United Nations. The US, the European Union and India have urged the government to follow the court ruling.