Mauritania's Military Ruler Steps Down to Run for President

Mauritania's military ruler has stepped down to stand as a candidate for president in June elections. The civilian president who was toppled in last August's coup wants Mauritanians to boycott that vote.

After more than 30 years in the army, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has resigned his military commission to run for president.

In a statement broadcast on state radio and television, General Aziz says he is resigning from the ruling military council and the presidency in respect of the law and in conformity with its spirit.

He says he is running for  president in the June 6 vote in the "sincere wish to build a new Mauritania based on justice, equality, and liberty."

In keeping with the constitution, Mauritanian Senate President Ba Mamadou Mbare is the new  interim head of state. But the military's State High Council will remain in place until the vote.  General Aziz says that will both prevent a power vacuum and respect the rule of law.

General Aziz came to power last August in a coup that toppled Mauritania's first freely-elected leader, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. General Aziz has ignored African Union demands to reinstate President Abdallahi, saying that would not serve the greater interests of the Mauritanian people.

Instead, he says allowing retired soldiers to run in the June elections better reflects what he calls Mauritania's "new political and cultural reality."

President Abdallahi says he will not take part in that vote and is urging his supporters to boycott the ballot. Ahmed Ould Daddah, who finished second in the 2007 presidential elections, is also boycotting the vote.

But the general's move has divided some of his political opponents with the vice president of Daddah's Rally for Democratic Forces announcing his support for the vote. Kane Hamidou Baba says the opposition should consider taking part in the vote "within the framework of internal dialogue."

The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute will not monitor the vote because it says the ballot is a unilateral decision against constitutional order.

The African Union has suspended Mauritania and placed a travel ban on civilian and military members of the ruling council.

General Aziz told reporters this week that AU sanctions will not change anything and will never be as effective as efforts to mediate an end to the political crisis.

General Aziz says he is committed to organizing free and fair elections. He says the ballot will not be postponed because 90 percent of Mauritanians want the vote.


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