MALE (Reuters) – Maldive’s new President Mohamed Muizzu, who campaigned on altering the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago’s “India first” policy, has requested India withdraw its military from the country.

Muizzu won the presidential election in September, ousting Ibrahim Solih in a runoff after promising to remove a small Indian military presence of some 75 personnel.

India and China have been vying for influence in the region, with the coalition backing Muizzu considered to be leaning more towards China.

“The Maldivian people had given him (Muizzu) a strong mandate to make the request to India and expressed the hope that India will honour the democratic will of the people of the Maldives,” the president’s office said in a statement on Saturday.

India’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At his inauguration on Friday, Muizzu said, “I will ensure that this country has no foreign military presence on its soil.”

Muizzu made the request to Kiren Rijiju, India’s minister for earth sciences, who was representing India at the president’s inauguration, it said.

“It was agreed that the two governments would discuss workable solutions for continued cooperation,” a senior Indian government official said on condition of anonymity, without clarifying whether India would return its military.

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