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FILE PHOTO Abdulla Yameen takes his oath as the President of Maldives during a swearing-in ceremony at the parliament in Male November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Waheed Mohamed/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Mohamed Junayd

MALE (Reuters) - The embattled president of the Maldives has sent envoys to friendly nations such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them on a political crisis in the Indian Ocean nation that spurred the imposition of emergency, his office said.

Abdulla Yameen left out key regional power India, which, along with the United States, Britain and the United Nations, has condemned the imposition of emergency and the arrest of top judges whose ruling against Yameen touched off new instability.

The Maldives, best known for luxury tourist resorts, has become another arena of contest for India and China after it signed up to Beijing's Belt and Road initiative to build trade and transport links across Asia and beyond.

India, which has had longstanding political and security ties to the islands about 400 km (250 miles) away, has sought to push back against China's expanding presence in the country of 400,000 people, most of them Muslims. Since the crisis erupted, Maldivian opposition leaders have urged New Delhi to intervene.

Yameen sent his economic development minister, Mohamed Saeed, to China, the foreign minister, Mohamed Asim, to Pakistan and farming and fisheries minister Mohamed Shainee to Saudi Arabia, according to a posting on his website late on Wednesday.

"Members of the cabinet, on the direction of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, will visit friendly nations of the Maldives and provide updates on the current situation," it added.

The government wanted to send a special envoy to India as well, but the dates were not suitable for the Indian foreign ministry, said Ahmed Mohamed, the Maldives' ambassador to India.

The Maldives has been in crisis since last week, when the Supreme Court quashed convictions ranging from corruption to terrorism of nine opposition figures, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader.

Tension came to a head when Yameen's government rejected the ruling, imposed the emergency for 15 days on Monday and then arrested the chief justice and another judge of the court.

Nasheed, in exile since he was allowed to go abroad for medical treatment in 2016, urged India to send an envoy "backed by the military" to the Maldives to free the detained judges and political prisoners.

India sent soldiers to foil a coup against the government in 1988, but has since refrained from getting directly involved in the country's unstable politics.

Experts say it is more likely to put diplomatic, and even economic, pressure on the Yameen government than send its military.

China has warned against outside powers meddling in the affairs of the tiny archipelago and on Thursday rejected Nasheed's criticism of its economic involvement.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China's aid to the Maldives had never carried political conditions.

"You also certainly can't talk about threatening the security of the Indian Ocean region," he said in response to an article by Nasheed in an Indian newspaper, slamming China for a "land grab" of the islands, and threatening regional security.

Cooperation between China and the Maldives is for all the people of the islands and accords with the interests of both countries and both peoples, Geng added.

Maldives crisis img - http://tmsnrt.rs/2Bbz0aZ

(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Reuters