Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mauritanian Junta Leader to Run for President

Mauritanian junta leader to run for president

NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) - Mauritanian general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz stepped down as junta leader to launch his bid for the presidency some eight months after he ousted the country's first democratically elected president.

In the last few months the state media have presented the junta leader as "the poor people's president" and report that he is greeted by massive crowds thanking him for taking the reins of the country wherever he goes.

The opposition has denounced his "brazen populism" and said he is using the state to "serve his crazed ambition".

Ould Abdel Aziz maintains that he had to step in to save the country from chaos and is promising a new Mauritania, free of corruption.

While he has now officially resigned from the army and favours suits over uniforms Ould Abdel Aziz still looks every inch the career soldier complete with a short-clipped black moustache.

Born in 1956 in Akjoujt to the north of the capital Nouakchott he is a member of a well known tribe of marabouts (Islamic holy men).

The son of a trader, Ould Abdel Aziz joined the Mauritanian army in 1977. A career soldier the 52-year-old has been a powerful behind the scenes figure in Mauritanian politics since he was appointed aide-de-camp to president Maaouiya Ould Taya in 1987. Ould Taya seized power in a military coup three years earlier.

Ould Abdel Aziz climbed up in the ranks, eventually serving as the head of the president's security detail. But after 20 years in power Ould Taya was ousted in 2005 in a bloodless coup which observers say was masterminded by several high-ranking military officials including Ould Abdel Aziz.

He was later part of the military junta, led by his cousin Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, that would lead the country to its first ever democratic elections. During the vote Ould Abdel Aziz actively backed the candidacy of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, a civilian candidate.

Elected president in March 2007, Ould Cheikh Abdallahi kept Ould Abdel Aziz close and after promoting him to general put him in charge of the presidential guard the next year.

But a power struggle between the president and the general ensued and on August 6 2008, just hours after being fired, Ould Abdel Aziz grabbed power in another coup.

With his resignation from the army and as head of state the way is free to present his candidacy for the June 6 presidential elections. Observers say the general is likely to win the vote as there are no strong candidates against him because the anti-coup parties are boycotting the elections.

"He is already in place, he has the traditional elite and the majority of the members of parliament and the senators behind him and he is already portrayed as the winner," Alain Antil, Mauritania expert of the French institute for international relations, told AFP.

No comments: