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Mauritania Postpones Saturday Vote


Mauritania's military rulers have agreed to postpone Saturday's special presidential election. The deal brokered in neighboring Senegal means Mauritanian opposition parties will drop their boycott and join the vote rescheduled for July.

The agreement in principle to end Mauritania's political crisis divides a transitional Government of National Unity between the military and its opponents.

Ten months ago, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz toppled the country's first freely-elected leader, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

Now Abdallahi will lead this transitional government after formally resigning as president. Aziz will name the prime minister of that government along with 14 other ministers. The remaining 15 ministries - including Interior, Finance, and Information - will be divided between Abdallahi's National Front for the Defense of Democracy and the opposition Alliance of Democratic Forces.

The deal must still be signed in Nouakchott on Wednesday. It follows days of talks in the Senegalese capital backed by the African Union, the Arab League, the European Union, the Fancophonie, and the United Nations.

Ramtane Lamamra is the African Union's Commissioner for Peace and Security.

"We are succeeding to bring together the stakeholders, both the military perpetrators of a coup, the political parties, the civil society, joining hands so that they can come back to constitutional order through competition, through democratic processes," said Ramtane Lamamra.

Mauritania's military rulers long refused African Union demands to reinstate President Abdallahi. Instead, they changed the constitution to allow retired military to run for office.

General Aziz then resigned his commission to contest the special election originally scheduled for Saturday. He has been campaigning on a slogan of constructive change promising to fight corruption and improve Mauritania's infrastructure.

With the opposition dropping its boycott, Aziz will face more serious challengers in the July 18 vote. But he is still seen as the front runner and now has the opportunity to contest an election more legitimate than Saturday's planned polling which had been widely criticized by the international community.

Lamamra says it is a good deal for Mauritanian democracy.

"Instead of having unilaterally-led elections, they will now be having multi-party elections in a transparent and balanced manner, so while overcoming the crisis, Mauritania will at the same time be deepening its democratic practices and culture," said Lamamra.

If no candidate reaches an absolute majority July 18, the deal calls for a second round of balloting August 1.

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