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Soldiers Surround Key Buildings in Mauritanian Capital

  • Gabi Menezes

Soldiers in Mauritania's capital seized strategic buildings, Wednesday, including the state radio and the presidential palace. President Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya is out of the country, and some residents in the capital Nouakchott believe a coup attempt is under way.

Soldiers surrounded Mauritanian state radio and blocked roads to the presidential palace, while President Ould Taya was away attending the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fadh in Riadh.

Racine Sy, who was in downtown Nouakchott, said everything was calm, and the only gun shots were heard earlier around 9 o'clock Wednesday morning. He said soldiers had surrounded strategic military points in the city, including army barracks.

"The civil places are blocked like the ministries and the presidential palace is also blocked. But people are going round doing everything they want without any worries," he said.

Mr. Sy says people he has met are convinced the president's own National Guard is attempting a coup, and for now the public does not seem overly concerned.

"We don't know exactly what could happen," he said. "People are worried what could happen if the president decided to come back here."

President Ould Taya came to power in a bloodless coup in 1984, and his government claims to have foiled several attempts to overthrow him. The most serious was in 2003 when the presidential palace was attacked, leading to two days of violent street battles.

Mauritania is an Islamic republic that gained independence from France in 1960. President Ould Taya has established ties with Washington as well as Israel under his presidency angering many Arabs in the country. He has also cracked down on Islamic militants as well as political opposition during recent years.