Mauritanian Opposition Lawmakers Protest in Parliament

Opposition lawmakers in Mauritania spent the night sleeping in parliament after they refused to leave the opening session when majority parties blocked debate on military rulers' plans for elections next month.

Most opposition lawmakers have boycotted parliament since last August's military coup ousted Mauritania's first freely-elected leader, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

But they returned in force for the opening session of the new term Monday demanding to debate former general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz's plan to run for president next month.

When lawmakers who back the country's military rulers blocked that debate, opposition members of parliament refused to leave and spent the night sleeping on the floor in protest.

Parliamentarian Moustapha Ould Bedre Dine says they continued the session on their own, calling for the cancelation of June 6 elections and the release of all political prisoners.

Dine says all political parties should be involved in finding an acceptable solution for the return to democracy in Mauritania. He says the opposition initially planed a 24-hour sit-in, but may extend that to prevent action by lawmakers backing the ruling military council.

He says the opposition parliamentarians are determined to fight for the return of democracy and do not care what action the military might take against them.

Security forces outside parliament have blocked supporters from resupplying the opposition lawmakers with food and water but have so far not moved to forcibly remove them from parliament.

Majority member of Parliament Ekhleyoute Mint Adhadana says it is a shocking display.

He says the executive bureau of the assembly is shocked by what he calls "the indecent work of the opposition" in parliament at a time when all political actors were supposed to take part in a national dialogue to come up with a consensus solution to the political crisis.

Aziz ignored African Union demands to reinstate President Abdallahi, saying that would not serve the greater interests of the Mauritanian people. He resigned his military commission to run in a special election he scheduled for June. Aziz faces no serious opposition in a contest President Abdallahi is urging his supporters to boycott.

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