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Mauritania President Says Coup Attempt Failed - 2003-06-09

The pro-Western president of Mauritania says an attempted coup launched by dissident soldiers on Sunday has failed.

President Maaouiya Ould Taya said on state media Monday that his army had successfully put down the attempted coup, which began early Sunday in the capital, Nouakchott.

President Ould Taya says it took time for loyal forces to regain control of the city, because each tank of a dissident armored unit had to be destroyed.

He praised loyalist soldiers for defending Mauritania.

Hours earlier in the center of Nouakchott, drivers honked horns, and pedestrians shouted in favor of their president, who came to power following a coup in 1984.

Earlier Monday, firefights raged in the same area and near the airport, as army reinforcements arrived from throughout Mauritania to put down the final pockets of resistance of the insurgency.

Several reports quoting government officials identify the leader of the insurgency as Salah Ould Hnana, a former colonel in Mauritania's army. He is said to have had the support of several officers from the east of Mauritania. Late Sunday, officials said all the coup plotters were killed, had turned themselves in or had been arrested, but sporadic fighting continued for several hours.

Hospital workers say there were dozens of casualties during the unrest, but no details were given. Officials say one of the victims was the armed forces chief of staff, Mohamed Lemine Ould N'Diayane, who was reported killed in the first hours of the insurgency.

The unrest closely follows a government crackdown on suspected Islamic radicals and politicians with links to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Many Islamic activists are also angry that Mauritania's government has close ties with the West and is one of only three Arab states that has full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Presidential elections in Mauritania are scheduled for November.