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Mauritanians Cast Ballots in Post-Coup Presidential Runoff


Mauritanians are choosing their president at the ballot box in the country's first presidential runoff. The polls pit former minister Sidi Ould Sheik Abdallahi against longtime opposition leader Ahmed Ould Daddah. Kari Barber reports from Dakar that Sunday's ballot marks the final stage in transferring the nation to civilian rule following a 2005 military coup.

Leaders of the military junta that overthrew President Maaouiya Ould Taya in a bloodless coup say they will hand leadership of the nation over to the winner of Sunday's election. Since independence from France, Mauritania has suffered years of coups and dictatorships.

Local analyst Racine Sy spent the morning visiting polling stations to watch the process unfold.

"The atmosphere was friendly and everything was done in a perfect way," said Sy. "I went to two different polling stations, and what I saw is that people are there and they are trying to do their civic duty peacefully and without problem."

In the first round of voting Abdallahi received 25 percent of the vote and Ould Daddah got about 21 percent.

Both Abdallahi and Ould Daddah are economists who served as government ministers.

Chief election observer for the European Commission, Marie Anne Isler Beguin, says the election has gone well. She says complaints have been about campaign workers offering voters taxi rides and tea.

"It could be a problem if the different parties ask people to vote for them, but that is not the case. They are just doing a little propaganda on both sides," she said.

Many of the 17 candidates who lost out in the first round have given their support to Abdallahi, including fourth-place finisher Messaoud Ould Boulkheir.

Boulkheir says he hopes that when the results come out and a new government is named, Mauritania will remain peaceful.

Boulkheir says nothing will be gained from violence. He says the candidates need to remember that in a democracy sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

Mauritanian journalist Salem Bokari says he is optimistic that when the elections have finished, the military will follow through on their promise to hand over power.

"Now it seems that the military will leave power three weeks after this vote. I think that now everything is clear for this," he said.

Military leaders had promised not to interfere in the election process and to let democracy take its course. There was some criticism early in the campaign period that the junta was supporting Abdallahi, which military leaders and Abdallahi denied.

Commentators inside and outside Mauritania have largely held that military leaders have abided by their promise to steer the nation toward democracy.

Final results are expected to be announced by Tuesday.

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