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Voting begins in controversial Maldives poll

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The Maldives has started to vote in a heavily-criticised election that will be closely watched by India and China.

The Indian Ocean archipelago is best-known overseas for its clear waters and high-end resorts but its government stands accused of crushing dissent.

President Abdulla Yameen has embraced China, while his opponent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, is seen as leaning towards India and the West.

The European Union and US have voiced concerns about the election.

Both have threatened to impose targeted sanctions if the democratic situation does not improve.

Police raided opposition headquarters on the eve of the vote, according to local reports.

Polls opened at 08:00 (03:00 GMT) on Sunday.

The Maldives is made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 islands, and tourism is a vital part of its economy. More than 400,000 people live there but its future hangs in the balance due to climate change.

The archipelago has been gripped by political upheaval in recent years. In February the Supreme Court quashed the convictions of nine opposition figures, among them exiled ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted from office in 2012.

But after President Yameen declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrest of two judges, the court reversed its decision.

The move was seen as a sign that Mr. Yameen – who is seeking to win another five-year term – would not tolerate any challenge to his rule and sparked criticism from Washington, London and New Delhi.

Some in India, meanwhile, called for an intervention in a small, neighbouring country once seen as firmly within its sphere of influence. Mr. Nasheed also appealed for Indian military intervention.

As part of Beijing’s push to gain strategic influence and carve out new trading routes in the Indian Ocean and beyond, it has lent billions for huge infrastructural projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and operates key ports in those countries, to the chagrin of India.

Under Mr. Yameen, the Maldives has also welcomed Chinese money for major projects and signed a free trade agreement. More tourists from China now visit the Maldives than from any other country.

Analysts say that Beijing fears any change in government that could affect its interests, while India is concerned about Mr. Yameen’s cosy ties with its regional rival.

SourceBBC News

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