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Mauritania cracks down on opposition after disputed election

Sia Kambou, AFP | Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid holds his head in his hands after the first presidential election round on June 23, 2019.

Mauritanian police raided the headquarters of two opposition parties, closing one of them amid high tension followed a disputed outcome to presidential elections, sources said Tuesday.

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The operation late Monday came after police clashed with opposition supporters angered over the declared victory of ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, they said.

A former general and long-time ally of outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Ghazouani was credited with 52 percent of the ballot, averting the need for a runoff vote.

"Police arrived at the headquarters of candidate Biram (Ould Dah Ould Abeid) and tossed teargas grenades inside, smashing windows and doors, making the place unusable," Abeid's spokesman, Hammada Ould Lehbouss, said on Tuesday.

They also raided the headquarters of opposition candidate Kane Hamidou Baba, the four candidates told a press conference late Monday.

His premises were closed by the authorities, opposition sources said on Tuesday.

The two buildings, located close to each other in the capital Nouakchott, were deserted early Tuesday and rocks used to form roadblocks and burned tyres were scattered outside, an AFP reporter saw.

Mauritania's internet connection appeared to be restricted from 1500 local time/GMT on Tuesday with no access to Whatsapp or Facebook, AFP correspondents said.

The government said later Tuesday that it had arrested more than one hundred foreigners, blaming opposition parties for contacts with outside forces seeking to destabilise the country through protests.

"There is a foreign hand behind these events," Interior Minister Ahmedou Ould Abdallah told reporters. He did not give any more details or nationalities, only saying the foreign presence was "linked to certain candidates".

"We have arrested a hundred foreigners whose presence cannot be explained in the context of the election in a country that is not their own," the minister said.

'Flawed vote'

The vote on Saturday had been touted as a historic moment in the conservative Saharan desert nation, marking its first democratic transition after decades of coups.

Ghazouani easily beat Abeid, an anti-slavery activist credited with 18.58 percent of the vote, according to results published by the CENI electoral commission.

He was followed by Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, a former prime minister, with 17.87 percent, according to the official figures.

Kane polled 8.71 percent, while Mohamed Ould Moloud got 2.44 percent.

The defeated candidates say the vote count was flawed and are calling for a breakdown of the tally by individual polling stations, to see how it matches their own data.

But they have also said that their bid to overturn the result will be peaceful and legal.

The outgoing president is a general who originally came to power in a 2008 coup. He won elections a year later and was again elected in 2014 in polls boycotted by the opposition.

Ghazouani, who campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security, served as Abdel Aziz's chief of staff from 2008 to last year.

Rights groups have accused Mauritania's government of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on the nation to do more to counter violence against women and slavery, which persists despite its official abolition in 1981.

(AFP)

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