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Anti-coup crowd will protest despite ban

Latest update : 2008-10-05

A coalition of Mauritanian pro-democracy parties said they would go ahead with a demonstration in the capital Nouakchott this weekend in defiance of a ban by the military authorities. They are protesting an August 6 military coup.

Mauritanian pro-democracy parties planned to hold an anti-coup demonstration despite a ban on Sunday, one day before an African Union deadline for the junta to reinstate the ousted president.

The west African country's junta-appointed prime minister, Moulaye Ould Mohamed Leghdaf, announced earlier this week that all demonstrations would be banned, saying Mauritanians had "protested enough."

The National Front for the Defence of Democracy, a coalition of five political parties opposed to the coup, said the military leadership "will be responsible in case of clashes" during the protest dubbed "Day for Democracy."

The August 6 coup was widely condemned by the international community and the African Union (AU) has issued an ultimatum for the junta to return ousted president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi to power "no later than Monday October 6."

Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who was Mauritania's first democratically-elected president, has been held under house arrest since the coup.

The African bloc has warned the military regime that it risked "sanctions and isolation" if it failed to yield to its demands, but the junta has resisted all diplomatic pressure to restore the elected government.

Still, observers in the capital Nouakchott believe that the military leadership could free the president as a goodwill gesture ahead of their mid-October visit to Brussels for talks with the European Union.

The military leadership headed by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has categorically rejected the idea of returning Ould Cheikh Abdallahi to power.

"It's unrealistic and illogical," the junta leader said on September 27, five days after the AU set its ultimatum. "He is a former president. ... We cannot return to the past."

The president was ousted on August 6 just hours after he issued a decree firing the Mauritanian military's top brass, including Ould Abdel Aziz, who was the commander of the presidential guard.

Since the coup the junta has taken over the powers of the president and has formed a new government with the support of a majority of the deputies in parliament.

The pro-junta majority of parliament argues that the military, which has always had a determining role in Mauritanian politics, simply rectified the political situation because the president, who had been in power for 15 months, was blocking the functioning of democratic institution.

The junta has promised to hold elections quickly but no date has been set and parliament has voted to delay a presidential vote by at least a year.

If the junta does not react to the ultimatum the African Union's Peace and Security Council will meet to mull their response.

A source close to the African bloc recalled the AU's sanctions set up against the separatist regime of Mohamed Bacar at Anjouan on the Comoros islands in October last year: a naval blockade, travel restrictions for the leadership, and a freezing of foreign assets.

Despite the bloc's firm tone, it is likely to take its time to make a decision as African diplomats signal that the AU wants to keep the dialogue with the military leadership going.

The organisation is also hoping that something positive will come out of the junta's meetings with the European Union where the parties are set to examine the situation created in Mauritania, following the coup.

Date created : 2008-10-05