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US Envoy Meets Leaders of Mauritanian Junta

The United States Thursday reiterated its call for the restoration of constitutional rule in Mauritania, where a military junta has seized power. The U.S. ambassador in Nouakchott took part in a meeting with leaders of the military council now running the west African state.

U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania Joseph LeBaron was among several foreign envoys summoned to a meeting with the military leadership.

Officials here say he reiterated U.S. public statements condemning the extra-constitutional action taken by the junta, and insisted that it move immediately to restore constitutional order.

A group of officers calling itself the Military Council for Justice and Democracy staged an apparently bloodless coup Wednesday while President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya was out of the country.

The council, headed by national police chief Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, said it would hold power for two years and create an open and transparent democracy to reverse what it said was Mr. Taya's totalitarian rule.

The State Department itself has said the human rights record of the Taya government was poor, but it joined the African Union and European Union among others in condemning the military overthrow of the civilian president.

Acting State Department Spokesman Thomas Casey reaffirmed that position Thursday.

"We oppose any attempts by rogue elements to change governments through extra-constitutional or violent means," he said. "As I understand it, the situation on the ground is still fluid but the Military Council for Justice and Democracy as it is calling itself, appears to be in control in the capital. Certainly we intend to work closely with the African Union and the U.N. and other regional and international partners to restore constitutional rule to Mauritania as quickly as possible."

While no details were given here, news reports from Nouakchott said ambassadors from African, Arab and western countries including the United States and France attended meetings called by the junta leader, Colonel Vall.

Mauritanian officials were quoted as saying he assured diplomats the junta would quickly arrange elections and hand over authority to a democratic government. The junta also indicated in statements it planned no changes in foreign policy.

President Taya's pro-western administration was one of the few Arab governments to have diplomatic relations with Israel, and it cooperated closely with the United States in the war on terrorism.

Many Mauritanians are reported to have celebrated the ouster of Mr. Taya, who ran the country with an authoritarian hand despite having been elected to office three times.

A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters here said whatever flaws Mr. Taya's government had, he was the internationally recognized president of the country, and that the restoration of constitutional rule would presumably mean his return to office.

The coup occurred as Mr. Taya was returning from Saudi Arabia and the funeral of King Fahd, and his plane was diverted to Niger. Officials here say U.S. diplomats have been in contact with Mr. Taya's chief of staff.