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Tensions Ease in Mauritania After Coup Leaders Name PM

Mauritanians appear hopeful for their future, after the leader of last week's coup named a new prime minister who is seen as having broad support and respect, and who has previously served as head of government.

Junta leader Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall announced his selection for prime minister Sunday. The man selected, Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, returned to Mauritania on Saturday from France, where he has served as ambassador since last year, to take up the post.

Last week's bloodless coup left many international observers nervous about Mauritania's future. The African Union, the United Nations and the United States were among the critics of the ouster of longtime President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who was out of the country at the time, and is currently in nearby Niger.

Olly Owen, an African politics analyst for the World Markets Research Center in London, said the new prime minister, who also held the post from 1992-1996, was the right choice. "As to the interim government, I think that it is quite a progressive move that they decided to defer the actual exercise of power from themselves, and get someone who is fairly across-the-board, someone who would be respected by conservatives and other people within the former ruling party, as well as people in the opposition party. So, it will give him the space to breathe and see what he comes up with," he said.

The appointment followed the resignation earlier Sunday of former Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacarand his Cabinet.

The coup has been welcomed by many in Mauritania, who had grown weary of more than 20 years of what they perceived as President Ould Taya's totalitarian rule.

Salem Bokari, a journalist living in the capital Nouakchott, said the appointment of the transitional government gives Mauritanians a reason to be optimistic. "Now, the people of Mauritania are looking to the future with hope. They know better than ever now their future, and the manifestation and all the population in the streets express their congratulations, and they are enjoying the new power," he said.

On Saturday, Mr. Vall, the coup leader and self-declared head of state, met with the heads of more than 30 political parties in Nouakchott, and promised that elections would take place in less than two years. He also assured politicians that no member of his 17-man junta would try to stand in the way of a democratic election.

But analyst Owen says the promise of non-intervention in the election process is not a sure thing. "I think the constitutional amendment announcement that was made on Saturday shows that they've got some concrete ideas about how they want to go about that. The real key issue is, when oil revenues start flowing in the first quarter of 2006, whether that kind of willpower is going to

survive," he said.

On Sunday, a judge announced the conditional release of about 21 people detained by the previous government and accused of being involved with Islamist extremism. About 50 other people remain in prison on similar charges.

But Mauritanians may not have heard the last of Mr. Ould Taya. In an interview with the satellite television network Al-Arabiya, the ousted president called those who staged the coup "criminals" who betrayed him. He said he will return to his country "soon," and called on his former security forces to reinstate him.