Reuters International

Former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, reacts during a news conference in central London, Britain January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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By Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Former Maldivian leader Mohamed Nasheed said he has been working with his old rival, another former president who had him jailed again and again, to find "legal options" to bring down the current government of the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago.

Nasheed was jailed under the government of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom more than 20 times for writing critical pieces about him. He even fled the country at the time, fearing for his life.

Now they are working together to bring down President Abdulla Yameen, Gayoom's half brother.

The Maldives has been mired in unrest since Nasheed was ousted in 2012 and sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a widely denounced trial in 2015.

Nasheed, in exile in Britain after being allowed out of jail to go there for medical treatment, formed the Maldives United Opposition in June with the aim of toppling Yameen.

"And so the position of the Maldives United Opposition, of which I am a member, is that for democracy to be restored in the Maldives it is essential that President Yameen be removed from power," he told Colombo-based reporters via Skype from London on Tuesday.

"...He has lost the support of the Maldivian people, security services, international community and his own party. He has even lost the support of his own brother, former president Gayoom."

Nasheed did not elaborate on the role Gayoom would play in ousting Yameen.

The current government has arrested most of Yameen's opponents. The opposition says the administration is trying to cover up corruption, including money laundering, accusations the government has denied.

Nasheed, who famously held a cabinet meeting under water to highlight the threat to the low-lying Maldives from global warming, said he and Gayoom were working together to bring down Yameen in a "legitimate way".

Gayoom ruled for three-decades until Nasheed unseated him in 2008 and is still popular with voters. His daughter, Dunya Maumoon, stepped down as foreign minister in July citing her opposition to capital punishment.

Nasheed was in Colombo for nearly two weeks through Sept. 5 to discuss legal options to remove Yameen. Yameen has said he was aware of an opposition plot to overthrow him with the support of "external forces".

Gayoom was not available for comment.

Yameen's broad crackdown on dissent belies the popular image of the Maldives, an island chain with a population of 400,000, as a holiday paradise, with radicalised youth enlisting in significant numbers to fight for Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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