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'I am still the legitimate president,' says Abdallahi

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2008-11-15

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi on Thursday denied reports that he had agreed to withdraw from politics and told FRANCE 24 that he was "elected by the Mauritanian people" for "a period of five years". Watch the interview here.

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 on Friday, Mauritania's ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi said he was still the legitimate president of Mauritania.  The military junta which overthrew Abdallahi in a bloodless coup on Aug. 6 moved him from house arrest in the capital Nouakchott to Lemden, his home village, on Thursday.

“I was elected by the Mauritanian people, in democratic elections, for a period of five years,” Abdallahi said in the interview. “And when the junta came to put an end to my term by force, I had only completed 15 months of this five-year period,” he added.

Recalling  his arrest, he said his security guards had driven him to a military base instead of his office, “They took me to a military base where I spent the day in a small office, with a small mattress and at night, they took me to a villa, in the capital. I lived there all this time, with no particular problems and the place was decent,” he said. “I am still under house arrest, the only difference is that I'm now in my home village,” the ousted leader added.

Abdallahi became Mauritania's first democratically elected president last year but was toppled by a group of generals led by presidential guard chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whom Adballahi had tried to dismiss.

On Thursday, Mauritania’s Communications Minister Mohamed Abderrahmane Ould Moine told reporters that Abdallahi has “agreed to retire from politics ".  However Abdallahi dismissed these remarks on Friday, saying he was shocked to hear to hear such a statement.

“I'm shocked to hear that a government official could say such a thing. It is absolutely not true, I haven't planned anything of that sort. I haven't even talked about it. I'm totally shocked,” the Mauritanian leader told FRANCE 24.

Expectations from the international community

The military coup has drawn strong criticism from the international community.

The European Union has given the junta until November 20 to free Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and restore constitutional rule.

“I'd like to thank the international community, who believes in having a democracy,” Abdallahi said during the FRANCE 24 interview. “I'm grateful, and I would like to particularly thank French President Nicolas Sarkozy for the position he took over this matter.”

The World Bank and former colonial ruler France have frozen some aid.

The African Union suspended Mauritania's membership over the coup, but several AU members in the region appear to have given tacit approval to the military takeover.

The United States has imposed travel restrictions on some members of the military government and frozen some of its aid to Mauritania.

“I have to return and perform my functions”

“The only solution I have is to return and perform my functions as the democratically elected president,” Abdallahi said when asked about the solution to the political crisis. “I don't have an army that's strong enough to make them step down. But I am willing to do everything to work towards the end of military rule,” he added.

Abdallahi also mentioned the growing support for him in the country and abroad, and how the movement was annoying the military. “Since I arrived early yesterday morning, there has been a constant stream of Mauritanians, not just members of the front, but Mauritanians from all sides, who have come to express their attachment to democracy. I think the fact that there's already a huge movement is annoying the military, and is making them tense,” he added.

On Monday, around 30 MPs boycotted the opening of the country's parliament.  The boycott followed a warning by the head of the five-party Front for the Defence of Democracy (FNDD), Mohamed Ould Moloud, who called the session “pointless and without an aim” in “the absence of a legal government and legitimate president.”

The FNDD, which has also been organizing protests against the military rulers, accused the junta of dismantling the country's democratic pillars so it can take full control after a transitional period.


Date created : 2008-11-14