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    Former Military Ruler Delays Start of Mauritanian Presidential Campaign

    Presidential campaigning is under way in Mauritania. But the country's former military ruler has delayed the start of his campaign to give international mediators more time to resolve the country's political crisis. 

    Campaigning began without the man widely expected to win Mauritania's June 6 vote.

    Former military ruler Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz postponed the launch of his campaign for 24 hours because he says he wants to boost efforts to find a negotiated settlement with political opponents who are boycotting the vote.

    The former general says the election will take place as planned, but he is delaying the start of his campaign to give international mediators a chance to make progress toward resolving the political crisis that has followed last August's coup.

    Aziz toppled Mauritania's first freely-elected leader, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, and refused African Union demands to reinstate him because Aziz said that would not be in the best interest of the Mauritanian people.

    So he changed the constitution to allow retired members of the military to run for office before retiring from the military to run for president in this special election his government is organizing next month.

    President Abdallahi wants Mauritanians to boycott that vote.  The National Front for the Defense of Democracy, which supports the ousted president, and the Alliance of Democratic Forces, which was the main opposition party before the coup, are both demonstrating against  the ballot.

    But they have also been meeting with mediators from the African Union and neighboring Senegal.  The political parties say preconditions for engaging with the military include canceling the election, releasing political prisoners, and opening state-run media.

    Senegal has proposed delaying the vote so opposition parties currently boycotting the ballot can join the electoral process.

    Aziz, who has also been meeting with the mediators, says he has made many concessions and is prepared to make even more.  But he says his political opponents will have to make concessions as well to find a way out of the situation.

    Aziz says the opposition boycott will have no impact on voter turn-out.  If he is not convinced by prospects for a mediated solution, Aziz says he will open his campaign Friday in the southern city of Kiffa, 600 kilometers outside the capital. 

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