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Junta promises 'free and transparent' elections

©

Latest update : 2008-08-08

In Mauritania, a junta consisting of the High State Council of armed forces led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has promised a "relaunch of the democratic process" following Wednesday's coup.

The new Mauritanian junta on Thursday promised "free and transparent" presidential elections in "the shortest possible period" a day after it seized control of the country in a military coup.
 
The 11-member High State Council of armed and security forces led by former head of the presidential guard General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz deposed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi on Wednesday after Aziz and several other senior military officers were sacked.
 
One of Aziz’s first measures shortly after seizing power was to cancel the army appointments made by the Abdallahi.

“President’s Abdallahi’s decision to sack members of his cabinet was at the heart of yesterday’s coup” said Billy O’Kadameri, Radio France International’s Africa editor, during France 24’s Top Story. “He fired them as a preemptive measure, because he suspected them of conniving with rival politicians to ouster him. But the top army officers have a lot of influence, and they fired him instead.”

The junta says it does not intend to retain power indefinitely. Its latest radio statement claims that “the State Council will take the necessary measures to guarantee the continuity of the state and to get together with institutions, political forces and civil society to supervise the holding of presidential elections enabling the relaunch of the democratic process in the country and to reshape it on a perennial basis."
 
According to O’Kadameri, one of the reasons the military decided to overthrow the government was that “in the past, they had acted in the same way and were cheered.”

He continued: “The previous military coup paved the way for a return to democracy, and the army thinks that it can replicate that pattern.”  But the analyst feared that the Mauritanian military might begin to resort to coups on a regular basis, “handing over power to civilians and gradually becoming civilian politicians themselves”.


A bloodless coup 

On Wednesday, Abdallahi was taken away from his home by members of the Presidential Security Battalion (BASEP). The deposed president's whereabouts remain unknown.

Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf was taken to an army barracks near the presidency, security sources said.

Military convoys rolled through the capital and took over the presidential palace, the prime minister's office and the state broadcaster, apparently without a shot being fired.

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, a FRANCE 24 observer 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, General Abdel Aziz.”


State television and radio in Nouakchott ceased broadcasting when soldiers surrounded government offices. Nouakchott international airport, which had been closed down during the coup was reopened late Wednesday.
 

A set-back for democracy


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

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 the government prompted a cabinet reshuffle.

“Many Mauritanians are saying that President Abdallahi brought this upon himself,” according to RFI’s O’Kademeri.

There have been 10 attempted coups in Mauritania since it gained independence from France in 196

 
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 International community’s reaction is understandable and legitimate because the coup has broken international law. Freezing aid will have an impact, of course, but only on the short term“ said Africa specialist Gilbert Bourgi when interviewed by France 24.

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

UN Secretary General 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 : 2008-08-08

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