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Coup leaders form new state council in Mauritania

Latest update : 2008-08-07

In a bloodless coup in the West African nation, senior army officers have arrested Mauritania's elected leadership and shut down the airport, state radio and television.

Click here to see FRANCE 24's October 29, 2007 interview with Mauritanian president Abdallahi



Mauritania’s democratically elected president was arrested by soldiers and the civilian leadership replaced by a military council on Wednesday, in a bloodless coup in the West African country.


President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was taken away from his home by members of the Presidential Security Battalion (BASEP), hours after he fired senior army officers.


One of them, the sacked head of the presidential guard, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, was said to be leading the coup, according to a statement on public radio.


The United States, the European Union and the African Union have condemned the ousting of Mauritania’s president.


In a statement broadcast by Gulf-based al-Arabiya television, General Aziz took leadership of a new “State Council” and released “communiqué No. 1” reversing the “former president's” decree sacking the top military officers.


According to the website of the Mauritanian journal Nouakchott Info, the coup leader is in talks with the president of the parliament Messaoud Ould Belkheir, and could potentially hold elections in two months.


President Abdallahi’s daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, told Reuters “the security agents of the BASEP came to our home around 9:20 (0920 GMT) and took away my father”.


She emphasized that it was “certainly a coup”, adding that “the phones have been cut”.


A presidency official who declined to be named said the prime minister and interior minister had also been arrested and taken to an unknown destination.


In the afternoon, police fired tear gas on a crowd of about 50 people gathered near one of the main markets, according to local journalists, but the capital of the nation of 3.1 million people was otherwise calm.


According to Isabel Fiadeiro, one of FRANCE 24’s observers living in the capital, the “coup d’état took place peacefully, without violence or firing. The population remained calm… We see the 4x4s driving with the photo of the new president, the General Abdelaziz”.


State television and radio in Nouakchott ceased broadcasting when soldiers surrounded government offices. Nouakchott international airport is also reported to be shut.



A set-back for democracy


The coup comes 15 months after Abdallahi came to power in elections hailed as a model of democracy for Africa, following a transition after a bloodless coup in August 2005.


“The Mauritanian army played a major role in the democratic transition and it looks like it is trying to put an end to that transition,” says FRANCE 24’s international news editor Jean-Bernard Cadier.


The political situation has been deteriorating in recent months. On Monday, 48 MPs walked out on the ruling party less than two weeks after a vote of no confidence in government prompted a cabinet reshuffle.


The MPs accused President Abdallahi of using excessive “personal power” and of having "disappointed the hopes of Mauritanians," a spokesman said.  


“The spectre of the army was behind the MPs,” FRANCE 24’s foreign affairs analyst Armen Georgian says.


“Mauritanians are against the presence of the army at the state's command,” says FRANCE 24's correspondent in Mauritania, Hamdi Ould el-Hacen. But some are keen to support it because of the rising prices, unemployment and political corruption. These are problems that Mauritanians didn't encounter under the twenty years' rule of Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya."


There have been 10 attempted coups in Mauritania since it gained independence from the French in 1960.



International condemnation against the coup


Strong condemnation came in from all quarters, including the UN, the European Union, the United States and the African Union.


The situation jeopardized the 156 million euros allocated in aid to the West African country for 2008-2013, according to EU Aid and Development Commissioner Louis Michel. “This situation could put into question our policy of cooperation with Mauritania.” he said.


He added that the president and prime minister should be returned to power.


The African Union released a statement saying “The AU (...) condemns the coup d'Etat and demands the restoration of constitutional legality”.


UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that he "deeply regrets" the coup.


The secretary general of the Arab Maghreb Union has also been asked to head “immediately” to Mauritania to “contact the various parties,” according to Libya's official JANA news agency.


The EU froze aid to Mauritania after a coup in 2005, resuming it after the military government promised to hold fair elections and release political prisoners.


Date created : 2008-08-06