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Mauritania's Coup Leaders Meet Missions, Prepare Government Amid Condemnations

Mauritania's military coup leaders are meeting regional missions and preparing a new transitional government. The moves to consolidate their power come despite widespread condemnations following Wednesday's bloodless overthrow of the country's democratically elected government. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Coup leaders met with the secretary-general of the Arab-Maghreb union, while preparing meetings with missions from the Arab League and African Union.

They released statements saying an 11-man military junta led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz would assume the powers of deposed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi until new elections at an unspecified date.

They also said they would appoint a government, issue a new constitutional decree formalizing the powers of the junta, and let other state institutions, including the divided parliament, operate as before.

David Hartwell, the Middle East and North Africa editor for the Jane's Country Risk publication, says it seems the coup leaders are in power to stay.

"The coup is likely to succeed," he said. "There is not currently much danger of a counter-coup. That is largely because Mauritanians are used to military coups, but also there is no figurehead from which the opposition can really rally around and that is the reason why the military have still kept President Abdallahi in custody and why the prime minister is still in custody as well, to neutralize the effect of a possible counter-coup."

Kissy Agyeman, an Africa analyst for London-based Global Insight, agrees the international community could have done more to help the democratically elected government, after it came to power last year, following another military coup that had toppled a long-standing dictatorship.

"I think that the international community at the time of the elections were very much encouraging of the transition, even with the European Union calling it a model transition," she said.

"Mauritania was re-engaging with international donors, it was also welcome back into the African Union fold. Of course, it is difficult for the country to have all the institutions in place to ensure that the transition was going to last. But the rapidity with which things have deteriorated in the country cannot be overstated," she added.

The coup followed the president's decision to sack top security officials, including coup leader General Abdel Aziz who was head of the presidential guard.

Mauritania, which straddles black and Arab Africa, is one of the few Muslim-majority countries with ties to Israel. It also has groups of Islamic radicals, which have worried both Mauritanian military officials and the U.S. government.

The United States said this week it was suspending non-humanitarian aid, including military-to-military funding.