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EU lauds liberation of deposed president from house arrest


Video by Nicolas GERMAIN , Audrey RACINE

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2008-12-22

Mauritania's ousted president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who was deposed in an Aug. 6 coup, has been freed from house arrest. Before his release, Abdallahi said he would refuse to join talks organised by the ruling military junta for Dec. 27.

Mauritania's military junta freed ousted president Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdallahi from house arrest on Sunday, ahead of "national consultation" talks next weekend his supporters plan to boycott.

"President Sidi has been freed," a security source told AFP on condition of anonymity, after the junta that seized power in the Saharan nation on August 6 ended his confinement amid international pressure.

Four military vehicles picked up Abdallahi in his home village of Lemden, 250 kilometres (150 miles) south of Nouakchott, and drove him to his private residence in the capital in the early hours of the morning, the source said.

"He now is free to move," the source said.

However, in an apparent show of defiance to the generals who ousted him, Abdallahi promptly returned to Lemden.

"The president used a personal vehicle to go back to Lemden," a former senior official close to him told AFP, asserting that Abdallahi had been driven to Nouakchott by junta members "against his will."

"He did not have time to say goodbye to his extended family in Lemden," he said. "He wished to return to prepare his return to Nouakchott, serenely, according to his own agenda."

The European Union presidency, currently held by France, welcomed Abdallahi's release but told the military junta that "the solution to the current crisis is through the return of constitutional order."

The junta had said it would free Abdallahi by December 24, to enable him to join a "national consultation meeting" on December 27. But in a French newspaper interview, published Saturday, he said he would boycott the talks.

Abdallahi told Le Monde that to take part "would be to legitimise the coup d'etat."

"I have firmly decided to fight to ensure this coup d'etat fails.... Only the people of Mauritania can make me go, by expressing themselves in the same way as when they (elected me)," he said.

A spokesman for Mauritania's National Front for the Defence of Democracy (FNDD) told AFP that Abdallahi's release was "a step on the road to his reinstatement." The anti-coup FNDD has also refused to take part in the junta-sponsored talks.

France's ambassador to the west African nation urged the opposition to reconsider. "It is an opportunity to discuss all the problems," said Michel Vandepoorter in an interview with a local newspaper.

"We would of course like all the political parties, especially those opposed to the coup... to go and participate in a true debate of opposing views," he said, reiterating France's opposition to the coup.

The ambassador's comments were criticised by the FNDD spokesman who accused France of meddling in strictly Mauritanian affairs.

Meanwhile, the movement's head, Beijel Ould Houmeit, told a press conference that Abdallahi had agreed to stay put until the FNDD asks him to return.

"President Sidi is not looking for confrontation. He will stay on in Lemden, at the disposition of the Front which has backed him. He will remain at our disposition until (constitutional) legality is restored to Mauritania," he said.

Abdallahi, 71, took office in March 2007 after three decades of military rule, the first democratically elected president since independence from France in November 1960.

Twice, the former minister was imprisoned or placed under house arrest as regimes changed. He also lived for lengthy periods in Kuwait and Niger.

The junta led by General Ould Abdel Aziz, the commander of Abdallahi's presidential guard, has taken over the powers of the president and formed a new government with the support of a majority of deputies in parliament. It promised fresh elections in 2009.

The European Union had threatened the junta with sanctions, while the African Union also condemned the coup and the United States called for Abdallahi's reinstatement and a swift return to constitutional rule.

Date created : 2008-12-21