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  1. ITV Report

Maldives declares state of emergency as political crisis deepens

Soldiers patrol the streets after the state of emergency was declared. Credit: AP

Officials in the Maldives have arrested two supreme court judges as a state of emergency was declared in the country.

Amid a deepening political crisis, President Abdulla Yameen granted his government sweeping powers as a stand-off with the island nation's top court continued.

The move came after the supreme court ordered the release of a number of political prisoners.

Soldiers reportedly forced their way into the supreme court building where the judges were sheltering on Tuesday.

Security forces also arrested former president turned-leading opposition politician Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, who held office from 1978 to 2008, is the half-brother of the President Yameen.

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has kept a tight grip on power. Credit: AP

Officials said the declaration emergency gives the government the right to make arrests, search and seize property and restricts freedom of assembly.

Parliament has also been prevented from meeting following the Supreme Court's surprise ruling a week ago, which sparked mass protests calling for the state to respect the ruling.

The President's main rival, who lives in exile, urged people not to obey what he called an "unlawful order" over the emergency declaration.

"This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal," former President Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, said in a statement.

A woman faces soldiers in recent pro-opposition protests. Credit: AP

Popular tourist destination the Maldives became a multi-party democracy only ten years ago.

But the nation lost much of its democratic gains after Yameen was elected in 2013.

He has maintained a tight grip on power and kept parliament loyal to him, albeit largely by overseeing a system that has seen MPs ousted after switching to the opposition.

The Supreme Court's ruling also demanded that the 12 sacked lawmakers be reinstated, which would see the Yameen's Progressive Party lose its majority and mean it could act as a rival power to the President.

Former leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was detained. Credit: AP

Yameen insisted in a statement on television that "during this time though certain rights will be restricted, general movements, services and businesses will not be affected".

He had been set to run for re-election this year virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.

A number of powers including the US have urged the Maldives Government to respect the rule of law and obey the Supreme Court's ruling.