With the arrests, nearly the entire opposition leadership behind on Saturday's anti-government protests were detained, opposition lawmaker Eva Abdulla said on Saturday.

Police arrested Sheik Imran, leader of the Islamic conservative Adhaalath, or Justice Party, Ali Waheed, chairman of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and Ameen Ibrahim, deputy leader of Jumhooree, or the Republican Party.

The arrests could exacerbate an acrimonious political climate in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation, which is still in its early years of democracy.

The Maldives government accused Imran of inciting violence among the protesters with the aim of overthrowing the government.

The government, however, did not comment on the arrests of the other opposition leaders.

Thousands of people marched in the capital on Friday, accusing President Yameen Abdul Gayoom of jailing former President Mohamed Nasheed and others who he sees as political threats.

The opposition activists ran through a cordon of shield- carrying police protecting the military headquarters in Male and clashed with police officers.

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