Former Mauritanian General Takes Over State Council

06 August 2008
Hours after the Mauritanian president fired top military officials on Wednesday morning, three of the fired officials seized the presidential palace and established a new state council. They have announced that President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was no longer president of Mauritania. For VOA, Ricci Shryock has more from Dakar.

In a military coup on Wednesday, three former military officials seized the Mauritanian president, prime minister and interior minister. Hours after they took control, one of the former generals behind the coup announced the new council's first act was to anull the dismissal of the military officials.

Local journalist Seyid Ould Seyid says the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, remained quiet during the announcement.

"The strongest General of Mauritania, Mr. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, announced himself as the president, new military president of Mauritania," he said. "As soon as the press communiqué was announced, the signal for the TV, they put it off. Everyone is still shocked in Mauritania."

Early Wednesday morning the Mauritanian president announced the firing of the three generals. Shortly afterward, the generals took control of the national palace.

Seyid adds there has been no violence in the capital, Nouakchott.

"There is no demonstration from the other side to support the president," he said. "There is no conflict in the street. It seems like in the street, everything is controlled by the military."

Seyid says residents are using their cell phones to exchange information, because the military has shut down the local media.

"The national media - they are closed," he said. "We have only one national TV, one radio. They are closed, and they are under control of the army. People are exchanging news in a very informal way."

Mr. Abdallahi assumed power after democrat elections in 2007, two years after generals ousted the former president in a bloodless coup. Oil-producing Mauritania gained independence from France in 1960.

Earlier this week, most of the members of Mr. Abdallahi's party walked out of a government session in protest.

Kissy Agyeman, a Sub-Saharan analyst for Global Insight, based in London, says Wednesday's coup is likely related to the walkout.

"I think this has been related to the incident earlier this week, when forty eight parliamentarians actually walked out of the ruling coalition in protest of, well, a number of things, but mainly because of the fact that they felt that not enough had been done to address the soaring food price crisis," said Agyeman. "And they called for a commission to be set up to investigate the food crisis."

On Monday, Agyeman says the parliamentarians also requested an investigation into alleged financial misappropriations by the president's wife.

The president denied both the investigation and food crisis commission, says Agyeman.

Recently countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have staged riots in relation to the rising costs of food and fuel, but Agyeman adds Mauritania was in a uniquely unstable condition.

"The democracy is very, very new," said Agyeman. "And it's had a series of coups. Whilst you do have, as I say, you know food crises and uprisings and frustrations over that. Of course, it will put more pressure on the ruling polity to address those issues. But to go as far to say that a coup could be expected in these countries where food crises did occur. I think would certainly be far-fetched at this point in time."

Agyeman says some sources have linked the former generals to the walkout. The president is currently being held in an undisclosed location.