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Mauritania Coup Leader Vows Swift Elections


Military officers who Wednesday ousted Mauritania's first-ever democratically elected president have promised to hold elections as soon as possible. One day after the bloodless coup, the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, were quiet. For VOA, Nancy Palus reports from Dakar.

The military rulers said in a statement Thursday that the new "state council" would organize in the shortest time possible presidential elections that would be "free and transparent."

The council said in the statement it would supervise, in dialogue with institutions, the political class and civil society, presidential elections to allow a restoration of the democratic process.

Mauritanian professor and journalist Seyid Ould Seyid told VOA that time will tell whether the military rulers will hold to their promise.

"They say very, very soon, as soon as possible. But we don't know what this as soon as possible means for them. Last coup [three years ago] they said as soon as possible and that soon as possible was 19 months. Are we going to repeat the same? I don't know. It's too early to say," said Seyid Ould Seyid.

The ousted president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, came to power in the country's first democratic elections in 2007 - nearly two years after generals ousted the previous president in another bloodless coup.

Since independence from France in 1960 the West African country has seen 10 coups d'état.

The latest overthrow followed weeks of political turbulence in Mauritania, with members of the ruling party backing a vote of no-confidence against the government.

On Thursday residents of the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, told VOA the city was calm.

Local journalist Seyid said the city was business as usual on Thursday morning, except for a demonstration at the presidential palace where he said hundreds of politicians and local personalities gathered to see the new military leader, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Speaking to VOA from the gate of the presidential palace, Seyid said such demonstrations are common after military takeovers in the country.

"This demonstration is not a new thing in Mauritania. Some independent observers think of it as orchestrated even last night by the military in place," said Seyid. "And it is very usual in Mauritania that whenever there is a coup there is this kind of demonstration coming outside to express solidarity with the new leadership in place."

The United States and the European Union have condemned yesterday's coup, calling for the ousted president and prime minister to be returned to power. Both the president and prime minister are reportedly still being held in a military barracks in Nouakchott.

The African Union, which has also condemned the overthrow, said it would hold an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the situation in Mauritania.

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