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Mauritania Leaders Dismiss AU Deadline


Leaders of the military coup that overthrew the elected president of Mauritania show no sign of meeting Monday's African Union deadline to relinquish power. On the eve of the deadline security forces dispersed pro-democracy demonstrators in Nouakchott as we hear from VOA's Scott Bobb in our West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Authorities in Mauritania signaled a firm rejection of the African Union deadline as security forces in Nouakchott used clubs and tear gas Sunday to disperse several pro-democracy demonstrations in different parts of the capital.

The demonstrators from a coalition of 11 parties called the National Front for the Defense of Democracy chanted slogans against dictatorship.

Cheikh Brahim Nema told VOA reporter Sayid Ould Sayid that the authorities are persecuting the people and urged the international community to support freedom and democracy.

The demonstrators called on the head of the military junta, Mohamad Ould Abdel Aziz, to reinstate ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, who has been under house arrest since a coup d'etat two months ago.

The African Union has called on the junta to restore Cheikh Abdellahi to power by Monday or face increased isolation and possible sanctions. The AU has already suspended Mauritania's membership in the pan-African group.

However, senior government officials dismissed the call as not constructive and not realistic.

Journalist Salem Majbour, with Africa Numero Un radio, noted that the Mauritanian government previously had allowed such demonstrations but banned Sunday's gathering citing security reasons. He says this signals the beginning of a long stand-off between the government and its opponents and a hardening of positions by both sides.

Cheikh Abdallahi last year became the first elected Mauritanian president in decades in a country where political change historically has come primarily through military coups.

But he was overthrown in August after trying to dismiss several members of the military high command, including General Abdel Aziz. The junta leaders accused the deposed president of corruption and of being soft on terrorism.

They have pledged to hold national elections next year, but pro-democracy groups say these will not be democratic.

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