Mauritania coup leaders promise 'free' elections

 The new Mauritania junta promised Thursday to quickly hold new elections as it confronted international condemnation of the detention of the west African country's first democratically elected leader.

An 11-member Military Council led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz deposed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi on Wednesday after Aziz was sacked as head of the presidential guard among changes to the military leadership.

Abdallahi won landmark democratic elections in March 2007. The resource-rich country has had a history of military coups.

The junta said in a statement it would "supervise the holding of presidential elections enabling the relaunch of the democratic process in the country and to reshape it on a perennial basis."

File picture shows Mauritanian president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (left) shaking hands with General Ould Abdel Aziz in Nouakchott

It promised: "These elections, which will be held in the shortest possible period, will be free and transparent and will bring for the future a continued and harmonious functioning of all the constitutional powers."

Abdallahi was ousted after he tried to sack senior army officers accused of organising a political crisis.

Military convoys rolled through the capital and took over the presidential palace, the prime minister's office and the state broadcaster, apparently without a shot being fired.

The Military Council said it had cancelled the army appointments made by the president.

Nouakchott international airport reopened late Wednesday but the deposed president's whereabouts were unknown. Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf was taken to an army barracks near the presidency, security sources said.

The former interior minister and two other officials considered close to Abdallahi were also arrested, security sources said.

According to the Mauritanian news agency Agence Nouakchott d'Information (ANI), Abdel Aziz met other government ministers Wednesday afternoon and asked them to stay on in their posts.

The coup triggered international condemnation, with the United States urging the release of Mauritania's leaders and the EU threatening to cut off aid.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the military to release the president and prime minister "and to restore the legitimate, constitutional, democratically elected government immediately."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he "deeply regrets the overthrow of the government of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi," and called for "the restoration of constitutional order," his spokeswoman said.

The African Union called for maintaining "constitutional legality" and said its peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, would go to Mauritania to "assist in promoting a peaceful solution to the crisis."

Condemnation also came from regional powerhouses South Africa and Nigeria.

Police fired tear gas grenades to disperse a crowd of about 50 people gathered near one of the main markets during the afternoon, local journalists reported, but the capital of the nation of 3.1 million people was otherwise calm.

The 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.

Mauritania has been facing a political crisis and on Monday 48 members of parliament walked out on the ruling party less than two weeks after a vote of no confidence in the government prompted a cabinet reshuffle.

The largely desert country has a history of coups since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Source AFP

Other news