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Mauritanian Opposition Leaders Return Home


Mauritanian opposition leaders have returned to their country since former President Maaouiya Ould SidAhmed Taya was deposed in a coup. Many of the political exiles who have returned were sentenced to years in prison by the Ould Taya regime.

Around 30 Mauritanian political exiles were welcomed by crowds on Monday night at Nouakchott airport.

One of the important figures to return was Major Mohamed Ould Cheikhna, who is the leader of a group called the Knights of Change. Mr. Ould Cheikhna was sentenced in absentia to life in prison in February for attempting to overthrow the Ould Taya regime.

Mr. Ould Cheikhna said on his arrival that he had come to participate in the reconstruction of his country.

Another political exile to return was businessman Moustapha Limam Chavi, who had been accused of harboring and supporting revolutionaries. He was sentenced to 15 years by the Ould Taya regime.

A Mauritanian reporter, Salem Bokari, says that people have welcomed the coup which overthrew President Maaouiya Ould Taya in August, and says there is new hope for opposition members, who were persecuted under Mr. Ould Tayas regime.

“People are very happy in the streets,” said Salem Bokari. “The experts there enjoy the changing of power. Nobody is crying [about] this regime. What was essential for the people was to change the regime because of corruption, because of violation of human rights, the oppression of opponents and the political prisoners who are jailed.”

At least 100 political prisoners have been released from jail by the military, including Islamist opposition leaders and soldiers who did not support the former president.

Mauritania is currently ruled by the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, which has promised to hold elections in two years. A human rights lawyer, Mr. Mohamed Ould Yarba says the political opposition is already beginning to act.

Mr. Yarba says that preparations for elections are underway and that people at the moment have put their faith in the military's promise. He says that it is not possible to hold elections in the country in a short time, because of the state of the administration and the justice ministry.

More political figures are expected to return home in the coming weeks, following an amnesty for political exiles. Last year almost 200 people were put on trial for attempted coup plots including a former president.

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