MALE - Police in the Maldives forced the postponement of Saturday's presidential polls, declaring the vote illegal in a decision that sparked international concern.
The Elections Commission just hours earlier had announced the vote would go ahead as planned despite 11th-hour court challenges by two candidates who were expected to lose to a former president.
"We continued with preparations for voting, but the Maldives Police Service have said no documents connected to the election can leave the commission's offices," Commission Chairman Fuwad Thowfeek said, adding a new election date would be announced later.
Regional power India issued a strongly worded statement expressing deep disappointment over the cancellation of an election that had international support.
"India and the international community have been closely watching the developments in Maldives and are seriously concerned at the attempts to stall the democratic process," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.
New Delhi demanded that Maldivian authorities make sure a fresh election is held without delay to ensure a president is in office by the constitutionally mandated November 11 deadline.
Police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz told AFP they considered it illegal to stage the election in violation of a Supreme Court order requiring all candidates to approve electoral lists.
"Only one candidate had signed the voter register and therefore it would have been a violation of the Supreme Court guidelines for the election to go ahead," Nawaz said.
The court last week annulled the first round of voting on September 7, citing irregularities - even though international observers said the polls were fair - and ordered a re-run.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed won 45.45 per cent of the vote in September - short of the 50 per cent threshold needed for outright victory.
Dozens of his supporters shouted anti-government slogans outside the parliament in Male and some sat on a sidewalk holding a banner asking: "Where is our vote?"