Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mauritania Regime Refuses to Set Polls Date

Mauritania junta refuses to set polls date - party

Tue 26 Aug 2008, 17:33 GMT
By Hachem Sidi Salem and Gabriela Matthews

NOUAKCHOTT, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Mauritania's military rulers have refused to set a timetable for elections or guarantee they will not stand themselves, complicating their efforts to form a government, the main parliamentary party said on Tuesday.

Veteran opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah said the High State Council set up after an Aug. 6 military coup had agreed to most of 35 conditions set by his Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD) and allied parties for joining a new government.

"There are at least two important points (remaining), which are the timetable, and the participation of soldiers in the elections and their neutrality in those elections," he said.

With 16 of 95 National Assembly seats, Daddah's Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD) is the biggest parliamentary party since the ADIL party formed by ousted President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi collapsed this month.

A majority of parliamentarians, including from the RFD, signed a statement in support of Abdallahi's ouster a week after the coup. They accuse Abdallahi of over-stepping his authority and failing to manage economic risks and al Qaeda attacks.

But backing from Daddah and his allies has since weakened, as junta chief General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has delayed setting a timeframe for free polls he has promised, and said he may even stand as president himself.

Daddah met on Tuesday with Jean Ping, the top diplomat of the African Union, which suspended Mauritania's membership within days of the coup. Abdallahi has been in detention since.

"As political leaders we cannot take part in a process which will isolate Mauritania," Daddah said.

The United States has already frozen around $25 million in military and development aid and warned much bigger sums of future aid is at stake. The European Union's aid commissioner has threatened to halt non-humanitarian aid and freeze payments of more than $100 million a year for fisheries rights.

Fisheries are one of Mauritania's main sources of foreign exchange after iron ore, which accounts for more than half its exports. It also became a small-scale crude producer in 2006.

This month's coup cut short Abdallahi's rule barely 15 months after he became the Islamic republic's first freely elected leader in elections called after a 2005 coup also instigated by Abdel Aziz. Daddah came in second place.

Ibrahima Moctar Sarr, who also stood in that poll, told Tuesday's news conference his Renewal Movement party would also boycott a new government unless the junta met their demands.

Sarr won almost 8 percent in the first round of last year's poll on a platform of racial equality for black Mauritanians who have long complained of abuse and enslavement by the white Moorish elite, from which Abdallahi and Abdel Aziz hail.

A minor party, the Mauritanian Party for Change, is still set to join a new government, but with only three National Assembly seats after one member defected to Daddah's RFD.

(Writing by Alistair Thomson, editing by Daniel Magnowski and Mary Gabriel)

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