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Status of Government in Mauritania Unclear Following Reports of Failed Coup - 2003-06-08


Confusion returned to the northwest African nation of Mauritania Sunday, hours after authorities said they had put down an attempted coup. The unrest follows the arrest of dozens of Islamic radicals.

Mauritania's state radio, which had reported that government forces were back in control of the capital, Nouakchott, has gone off the air again.

Looters are reported to have taken over several government buildings, after security guards fledLooters are reported to have taken over several government buildings, after security guards fled. There are also reports that mutineers entered the presidential palace.

President Maaouiya Ould Taya is said to have taken refuge at the French embassy.

Tanks and small arms fire were first heard early Sunday at the presidential palace and at the airport, but authorities said they had put down the insurgency led by disgruntled members of the armed forces.

One plane, apparently in the hands of insurgents, flew over the city several times, suggesting units in the armed forces were involved. Some residents say they believe radical Islamic soldiers led the insurgency.

The unrest closely follows the arrest of dozens of civilian Islamic activists. More than 30 of the radicals were indicted earlier this month for inciting internal unrest.

Many Islamic activists are angry that Mauritania is one of only three Arab states to hold full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Main opposition parties boycotted the previous presidential election in 1997. President Ould Taya, who came to power in a coup in 1984, was scheduled to seek re-election in November.

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