MALE (Reuters) - Maldives police arrested 193 people including three opposition leaders after clashes broke out on Friday during protests over the detention of a former president.
Police said the opposition leaders had incited violence and urged confrontation with the police when addressing the crowds and that Sheikh Imram Abdulla had organized the protests to topple the government.
The protests were called to demand the release of Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected president, who was jailed in March for ordering the arrest in 2012 of a judge. His trial was criticized as deeply flawed by foreign governments.
Abdulla heads the small but influential Islamic Adhaalath Party. Also arrested were Ali Waheed, chairperson of Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party; and Ameen Ibrahim, deputy leader of the Jumhooree Party, officials said. All three remain in detention.
A spokesman for Nasheed's party said the protests had remained peaceful and denied that any violence was carried out by its supporters.
The imprisonment of Nasheed in March has triggered daily protests in the Maldives, a string of tropical islands that has struggled to embed democracy since 30 years of authoritarian rule came to an end in 2008.
Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012 as a result of a crisis that blew up over over the judge's arrest. His supporters say he was forced out in a coup.
During Friday's protest, police used tear gas, stun guns and pepper spray to stop crowds from breaking through barriers and into a compound housing the police headquarters in capital city Male, in the biggest protest since Nasheed was jailed.
Several police officers and protesters were injured although none seriously, witnesses said, and more protests are expected late on Saturday. All 193 arrested remained in custody, a police official said.
"The president doesn't have any interest in arresting opposition leaders, but no one is above the law," Ibrahim Muaz, a spokesman for the President's Office, said.
Reporting by Daniel Bosley; Writing by Tommy Wilkes in NEW DELHI; Editing by Angus MacSwan