The United States Wednesday vigorously condemned the military overthrow of the Mauritanian government and called for the restoration of democratic rule. The coup could lead to sanctions by the United States and European Union. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi had taken office last year as the country's first freely-elected leader. His apparent overthrow and detention by the country's military has drawn a strong condemnation from the Bush administration.
At a news briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said democratic rule in Mauritania should be restored without delay.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms, the Mauritanian military's overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Mauritania," said Gonzalo Gallegos. "We oppose any attempts by military elements to change governments through extra-constitutional means. We call on the military to release the president, and the prime minister and to restore the legitimate, constitutional, democratically-elected government immediately."
The Mauritanian coup has also been condemned by, among others, the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union.
Gallegos said the United States has been in contact with the AU and individual countries in the region to try to increase political pressure for a reversal of the coup.
In Brussels, European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel said the elected Mauritanian leaders should quickly be released and returned to their posts, and warned that some $240 million in EU aid to Mauritania could be at risk if they are not.
A U.S. law, approved by Congress in 2006, requires the administration to halt non-humanitarian aid to any country in which a democratic government is ousted by the military.
Spokesman Gallegos said U.S. officials are discussing the applicability of the law to the situation in Mauritania but provided no details.
The United States has been providing about ten million dollars in annual aid to Mauritania in recent years, most of it in the form of food, economic assistance and a Peace Corps presence, though there is a small military training program.
Spokesman Gallegos said all private U.S. citizens in Mauritania are accounted for and that that U.S. embassy in Nouakchott, which remains open, has advised them to remain at home for the time being.