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    Mauritania's Military Rulers to Run for Office

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    Mauritania's military rulers say they will hold elections May 30 and will change the constitution to allow themselves to run for office.  They toppled the country's first freely-elected leader in a military coup last August.  
     
    Mauritania's military leader accepted the recommendations of a special forum he established to decide the country's political future.

    General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said that allowing members of the military to run for elected office is part of amending the constitution to adapt to what he calls Mauritania's "new political and cultural reality."  He said the military remains open to dialogue to resolve the country's problems.

    General Aziz seized power last August after the nation's first freely-elected leader tried to fire him and other top military officials.  Former President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi boycotted the general's political forum and has said that he intends to return to office.

    General Aziz organized the 10-day meeting of more than 1,000 religious leaders, labor chiefs, mayors, governors and most of the nation's political parties to come up with a plan for returning Mauritania to democratic rule.

    His military government has been trying to avoid additional international sanctions after development and military aid was scaled back after the coup.  The African Union has suspended Mauritania, and the United States has issued travel restriction on the coup leaders.

    Political parties boycotting the forum rejected its decision to allow members of the military to run for office.

    Mohamed Mahmoude Ould Lematt, deputy president of the Union of Democratic Forces, says there cannot be neutral elections if members of the military or security forces are allowed to stand as candidates.  Without free and fair elections, he says, there will be no political stability in Mauritania.  Lematt says it is dangerous to amend the constitution in a time of crisis.

    The forum recommended, and General Aziz accepted, holding the first round of elections on May 30.  If needed, they have scheduled a second round of voting for June 13. 
     

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