Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Mauritania Troops Stage Coup

Troops stage coup in Mauritania

Troops in Mauritania have overthrown the country's first freely-elected government and say they have formed a state council to rule the country.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was held - along with Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef - after he sacked several senior army officers.

Soldiers have been seen on the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, but there have been no reports of fighting.

The country held free and fair polls in June 2007, two years after a coup.

The country has been gripped by political crisis for a fortnight, after a vote of no confidence in the cabinet.

On Monday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Reports suggest some of the generals orchestrated the mass resignation, our correspondent James Copnall says.

Earlier on Wednesday, President Abdallahi replaced several senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz.

Shortly afterwards, Gen Abdelaziz led soldiers in a coup, against the president.

Unusual troop movements

Culture Minister Abdellahi Salem Ould El-Mouallah read out a statement on television on behalf of the coup leaders.

"The State Council, headed by Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, declares that the decree by which the former president had dismissed the chief of staff of the national army, the chief of the special presidential staff, the chief of the national gendarmes and the chief of the national guards, is annulled legally and practically," he said.

The first indications of a military coup came as state radio and television was taken off the air amid reports of unusual troop movements in Nouakchott.

Then the military rounded up the president and prime minister apparently without needing to use force.

The president's daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, said soldiers seized her father at his house at 0920 local time (0920 GMT).

She raised the alarm in a phone call to a French radio station.

"The president has just been arrested - five minutes ago - by members of the presidential security battalion, on the orders of Gen Abdelaziz," she told Radio France International.

"They came here to find him. They arrested him here and took him to the battalion base. It's a textbook coup d'etat."

Political instability

Mauritania has been described as a long succession of coups, with the military involved in nearly every government since Mauritania's independence from France.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule - the product of a military coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

Mauritania is one of the world's poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

The desert nation, a former French colony of more than three million people, has been looking to oil revenues to boost its economy.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/08/06 14:25:27 GMT

Mauritania forces 'stage coup'

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Presidential guardsmen seized Mauritanian President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in a coup today after he sacked several top army officers, the president's daughter said.

Soldiers gathered at the presidential palace after Abdallahi replaced senior army officers during a political crisis in the northwest African country that is one of the continent's newest oil producers. Abdallahi won elections last year and took over from a military junta that had ruled since it toppled President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya in a bloodless coup in 2005.

"The security agents of the BASEP (Presidential Security Battalion) came to our home around 9.20 (0920 GMT) and took away my father," Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, the president's daughter, told Reuters.

A presidency official who declined to be named said the president, prime minister and interior minister had been arrested and taken to an unknown destination.

In a decree published earlier today by the national news agency, Abdallahi sacked army chief of staff General Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed Ghazouani and presidential guard chief Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz.

A security source in the capital Nouakchott told Reuters Abdelaziz was leading the coup. Gulf-based Arabic television news channel al-Arabiya reported that both he and Ghazouani were involved.

The head of the Gendarmerie paramilitary police force was also replaced in the decree. Shortly afterwards state radio and television stations went off the air.

Largely desert Mauritania, a former French colony of more than 3 million people, straddles black and Arab Africa.

Abdallahi replaced one government in May following criticism over the government's response to soaring food prices and to attacks over the last year carried out by al-Qa'ida's north African arm.

But the new government resigned last month in the face of a proposed no-confidence vote.

A new one was formed but without the opposition Union of Forces for Progress (UFP) and Islamist Tawassoul parties which had formed part of the previous government.

This week most of the members of parliament belonging to Abdallahi's PNDD-ADIL party walked out from the party en masse, in a move some political sources said were supported by senior military officials.

Country profile: Mauritania

One of Africa's newest oil producers, Mauritania bridges the Arab Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa.

The largely-desert country presents a cultural contrast, with an Arab-Berber population to the north and black Africans to the south. Many of its people are nomads.

In the Middle Ages Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid movement, which spread Islam throughout the region and for a while controlled the Islamic part of Spain. European traders began to show interest in Mauritania in the 15th century and in 1814 it came under direct French rule.
Politics: A coup in 2005 ended President Taya's two decades of authoritarian rule; presidential polls in March 2007 marked a major step in the transition towards democracy
Economy: Mauritania depends heavily on drought-prone agriculture; its rich coastal fishing grounds are threatened by over-exploitation; offshore oil exploitation began in 2006
International: Mauritania is an ally of the US in its "war on terror" and has ties with Israel

Morocco opposed the country's independence in 1960 and for a time tried to absorb it. But Morocco's King Hassan II later improved ties as part of his plan to divide Western Sahara.

The eventual deal in 1976 brought more problems, though, with Mauritania coming under attack by Polisario Front guerrillas, who opposed Moroccan control of Western Sahara, and the subsequent downfall of the leader since independence - Moktar Ould Daddah - in a military coup.

Peace was agreed with the Polisario in 1979, but this in turn worsened relations with Morocco, until a detente in 1985. More recently, ties with Senegal have been strained over the use of the Senegal River, which forms the border between the two countries.

Mauritania officially banned slavery in 1981. The government has denied accusations that it is still being practised.

One of the world's poorest countries, Mauritania has pinned hopes for future prosperity on the exploitation of its offshore reserves of oil and natural gas. The Chinguetti and Tiof fields are expected to yield millions of barrels of oil.

The country forged diplomatic ties with Israel in 1999, one of three Arab nations to have done so. Under its former president, Mauritania was an ally of the US in its "war on terror". American special forces were despatched to train Mauritanian troops.

Full name: The Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Population: 3.1 million (UN, 2007)
Capital: Nouakchott
Area: 1.04 million sq km (398,000 sq miles)
Major languages: Arabic (official), French, others
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 62 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 ouguiya = 5 khoums
Main exports: Fish and fish products, iron ore, gold
GNI per capita: US $560 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .mr
International dialling code: +222
President: Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi

Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won run-off elections in March 2007 to become Mauritania's first democratically elected president since the country gained independence from France in 1960.

The elections were the final stage of a democratic handover to civilian rule by a military junta which took power in a 2005 coup.

The polls were given a clean bill of health by the European Union and US observers. Mauritania has experienced 10 coups or attempted coups since independence. Previous elections were widely viewed as rigged.

Mr Abdallahi vowed during his campaign that remaining cases of slavery would be severely punished, and that former slaves and their descendants would benefit from positive discrimination.

He also promised to promote national unity, encourage job creation and to improve health, education and infrastructure.

Mr Abdallahi was minister of finance in one previous administration and minister of fishing under Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, who was ousted in 2005. He fell out with Taya in 1987 and spent six months under house arrest.

Observers have suggested that among his challenges will be to ensure that the military, who seized power before mapping out the route to civilian rule, keep out of politics.

Shortly after taking office he said he would take a pay cut of 25% because of lower than expected oil revenues.

Mauritania's TV and radio stations are state-owned. Their coverage strongly favours the government and opposition access to radio is limited.

An FM relay of Radio France Internationale in the capital was shut down in 2000 after the authorities accused the station of negative reporting. The ban was lifted in late 2005.

The BBC is available on FM in the capital (106.9) and in Nouadhibou (102.4).

Under Mauritania's press law, newspapers may be banned for publishing material that "undermines" Islam or is perceived to threaten national security.

The press

Chaab - state-run daily, in Arabic
Horizons - state-run daily, in French
Journal Officiel - government journal of record
Le Calame - private weekly
L'Eveil-Hebdo - private weekly
Rajoul Echaree - private
Akhbar Nouakchott - private daily
Nouakchott Info - private daily


Mauritanian TV - state-run, programmes in Arabic, French and local languages
Radio Mauritanie - state-run
News agency

Mauritanian News Agency (AMI) - state-run
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/04/04 12:09:57 GMT


Pan-African News Wire said...

NOUAKCHOTT 5 August 2008 Sapa-AFP


Mauritania faced a political crisis on Tuesday after 48 MPs walked out on the ruling party less than two weeks after a vote of no confidence in the government prompted a cabinet reshuffle.

The walk-out by 25 MPs and 23 senators on Monday from the ruling National Pact for Democracy and Development (PNDD) is a new blow to the government and to President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who became Mauritania's first democratically elected president last year.

The breakaway group said they will form a new party because they want to change direction, but it was unclear Tuesday whether they would align themselves with the opposition or the government.

Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf, in an interview with Al-Fajr published Tuesday, said he had no fears of losing the backing of the majority in parliament because he believed the renegade MPs would not join the opposition.

In an earlier radio interview Sunday, when expectations were rife of a mass walk-out, the prime minister had said: "It is inconceivable that you say you support the majority and as the same time align yourself with the opposition against the government of a regime you support."

But Mauritanian newspapers were unconvinced, with the weekly Le Calame asking on its front page "Is this the beginning of the end?". The daily Le Quotidien de Nouakchott contemplated the "redistribution of the cards" in parliament.

A spokesman for the PNDD, Aboubekrine Ould Ahmed, still clung to the hope on Tuesday that the situation could still be salvaged, and that the break up "will not be definitive".

"If that is not the case we will keep the MPs that remain and build bridges with other political forces willing to work with us to keep our majority in parliament," Ahmed told AFP.

They renegade lawmakers criticised Abdallahi's exercise of "personal power", adding that he had "disappointed the hopes of Mauritanians," a spokesman said.

The Mauritanian president last month threatened to dissolve
parliament after MPs filed a motion of no confidence in his new government, which then resigned.

Recently, they tried to call a special session of parliament to create a commission to investigate the country's response the rising cost of living, and also the financing of a foundation run by the president's wife.

A largely desertified former French colony, the West African country imports over 70 percent of its food needs and has been hard hit by the food crisis.

Pan-African News Wire said...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008
18:13 Mecca time, 15:13 GMT

Mauritanian military stages coup

President Abdallahi earlier sacked the head of his presidential guard

The sacked commander of Mauritania's presidential guards has taken control of the presidential palace in Nouakchott, the capital.

Officers seized Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the president, on Wednesday, along with the country's interior minister and Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf, Mauritania's prime minister in what appears to be a bloodless coup.

"What is going on in Mauritania is a coup d’etat organised by rebels who were sacked by the president on Wednesday morning," Abdullah Mamadouba, the official spokesman for the Mauritanian presidency, told Al Jazeera.

"It is a coup against the constitutional legitimacy in Mauritania."

Earlier local radio announced the president's order sacking General Mohammad al-Abdul Aziz, the head of the presidential guard and General Mohammad al-Ghazwani, the army chief-of-staff.

"The two generals have now turned the military against the president to overthrow him through this coup," Mamadouba told Al Jazeera.

Later the coup leaders released a statement under the auspices of a new 'Mauritanian state council', headed by Ould Abdul Aziz, canceling the presidential decree that had sacked him and al-Ghazwani.

President Abdallahi's daughter confirmed her father was being held by the army.

"The security agents of the BASEP [the presidential security battalion] came to our home around 9.20am (09:20 GMT) and took away my father," she was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.

Bloodless coup

Army units surrounded the presidential palace in the capital and the international airport was closed.

Both Mauritanian television and radio went off air, with army units surrounding their main buildings.

"Huge crowds of Mauritanians are teeming the street of the capital Nouakchott," Hamdi Ould al Hacen, a freelance journalist working in Mauritania, told Al Jazeera.

"Mauritanians are very worried about the future of their newborn democracy," he added, referring to Abdallahi's win in elections last year, which saw him take over from the country's military rulers.

He also confirmed that there had been as yet no violence.

"Life is remaining as it was - businesses and schools are still open. Life is as it was," he said.

Later witnesses reported police fired tear gas to disperse a group of at least 50 supporters of the president who had gathered in central Nouakchott.

The African Union condemned the coup, calling for "the restoration of constitutional legality", in a statement issued from its headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The EU also criticised the coup, saying it condemned "any attempt to overthrow a democratically elected institution or government by force".

Political crisis

Abdallahi took over from the country's military rulers that had held power since toppling Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, then president, in a bloodless coup in 2005.

"The crisis has been building for the last three months ... and we know that since the elections about a year and a half ago ... that civilian rule was promised, which was surprising as it doesn't happen very often in the Arab world," Mohamed Vall, an Al Jazeera correspondent, said.

"The Mauritanian people received the news very happily and they thought this to be the end of a dictatorship of 23 years but ... there were critics that did not believe the military would easily let go of power and stay on the margins."

Abdallahi replaced one government in May following criticism over the government's response to soaring food prices and to attacks over the last year carried out by al-Qaeda's north African arm.

But the new government resigned last month in the face of a proposed no-confidence vote and a new one was formed.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies