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African Union suspends Mauritania

Latest update : 2008-08-11

African Union chair Tanzania has suspended Mauritania from the AU until the return of a constitutional government in the country. The statement comes days after soldiers overthrew the president.

The African Union on Saturday suspended Mauritania from the bloc following this week's coup in the northwest African nation, while an Arab League envoy held talks with the coup's leader.
"The AU will suspend Mauritania's membership until the country returns to constitutional government," said Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe, whose country holds the pan-African bloc's rotating presidency, in a statement.
On Wednesday the former head of Mauritania's presidential guard, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, led a coup against President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi after he tried to make changes in the military leadership.
The coup has been widely condemned by the international community even though the new military junta has promised to quickly hold "fair and transparent" elections.
The United States suspended non-humanitarian aid to Mauritania following the coup and on Saturday Arab League emissary Ahmed Ben Hilli travelled to Nouakchott where he met with Aziz to "get assurances about the democratic process in the country".
Aziz told the Arab League representative he would keep constitutional institutions in place.
"He also said he would organise a presidential election within a short period of time," said Ben Hilli following their meeting.
Ben Hilli said AU, Arab League and UN officials would meet in Nouakchott on Sunday to "help Mauritania emerge from the crisis."
An AU delegation was also expected Saturday evening in Nouakchott.
"The coup is a serious setback for Mauritanians because it has robbed the people of their basic right to freely elect leaders of their own choice," said Membe, who is also the chairman of the AU's council of ministers.
Friday saw hundreds of people turn out for an anti-coup rally on the streets of Nouakchott, capital of the nation of 3.1 million people.
On Thursday, the AU condemned the coup and called for a "return to constitutional order and the re-establishment without delay of the institutions that the Mauritanian people have democratically chosen."
The Arab League emissary meanwhile was informed the ousted president of Mauritania -- who is being kept in a heavily-guarded villa -- was not in danger.
The general "told me he was in good health, well-treated, in good conditions", said Ben Hilli.
In an interview with the Arab language daily Asharq al-Awsat, the coup leader said: "We will not release the overthrown president for the moment, for security reasons. We are trying to re-establish calm and to lower tensions."
"We came to power accidentally but only to serve the country," the junta leader Aziz told Radio France Internationale.
"I urge all Mauritanians to overcome their differences ... to help us tackle the threats facing the country such as hunger, ingnorance and sickness," he said, pledging "democracy, good governance and a stern fight against corruption."
Abdallahi became Mauritania's first democratically elected president last year after a period of transition supervised by a military council that deposed the previous president in a bloodless coup in August 2005.
The largely desert country has a history of coups since its independence from France in 1960.
Mauritania was shaken between December 2007 and February 2008 by three attacks from extremists linked to Al-Qaeda which left seven people dead including four French tourists.
The attacks caused the organisers of the 2008 Dakar rally to cancel the race, which usually crosses the Mauritanian deserts.

Date created : 2008-08-10