Coup leaders release Mauritanian PM

Five days after taking power in a coup, Mauritania's self-appointed military State Council has freed the deposed prime minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf, in an apparent gesture of goodwill following pressure from the international community.


The international community on Monday stepped up pressure on Mauritania's military junta which ousted the country's democratically elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi last week.

France announced that it was freezing all development aid except for humanitarian and food aid, in response to the coup.

In an apparent gesture to the international community the military junta on Monday released ousted prime minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf and three other officials held with him.

"The prime minister was freed Monday afternoon along with three other government officials. I understand that only the president is still being held," Mohamed Ould Maayouf, a spokesman for the prime minister, told AFP.

The president, the prime minister and interior minister Mohamed Ould R'Zeizi were arrested by the troops who overthrew the government last week.

Two other officials, considered to be close allies of the president, were also held: Moussa Fall, the director of the national agency for the reinsertion of Mauritanian refugees from Senegal and Mali, and Ahmed Ould Sidi Baba, the vice president of the ruling PNDD party.

Now all but the president have been freed.

According to security sources Abdallahi is held in a villa on the grounds of the Nouakchott congress centre.

Last Wednesday troops led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the former head of the presidential guard, overthrew Abdallahi after he tried to sack the army's top brass but promised to hold elections quickly.

This weekend the general was told by representatives from the European Union, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United States that they will oppose any "unilateral" elections.

Ambassadors from France, Germany, Spain and the United States together with representatives from the EU and UNDP met Ould Abdel Aziz and told him they rejected "the organising of unilateral elections which would be illegitimate", said a French diplomat who did not want to be named.   

"The six (representatives) firmly condemned the coup and said it was unacceptable to overthrow a democratically elected president and demanded that the president and his prime minister are set free and constitutional order is restored," the source said.

Representatives from the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union also came to Mauritania to talk with the new junta leader, but did not make any statements about what was said.

Later on Monday the supporters of deposed president Abdallahi, the northwest African country's first democratically elected president, are set to hold another anti-coup rally in the capital Nouakchott.

On Friday several hundred people gathered for a similar rally, including some ministers and members of parliament.

On Sunday the President of Mauritania's national assembly, Messoud Ould Boulkheir, pledged his full support to the deposed president.

In a statement he said he recognised no one except Abdallahi and said he would not agree to any presidential elections staged by the coup leaders.

But 67 out of 95 Mauritanian members of Parliament later rejected his statement in a joint declaration saying he was only speaking for himself.

The 2007 elections that Abdallahi won were hailed as a model of democracy for Africa, following a three-year transition after a bloodless coup in August 2005.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning