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Former Mauritanian PM Released From Jail

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Mauritania's military rulers have released the country's former prime minister who has been jailed since last August when the government was overthrown in a coup. The release is part of a power-sharing agreement between the military and its political opponents.

Supporters and family members of Ahmed Ould Al Wagef gathered outside prison to celebrate his release.

The former prime minister told reporters he was a hostage, not a political prisoner and vowed to defeat General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in elections scheduled for July 18.

Aziz jailed the prime minister following a coup last August that toppled the nation's first freely-elected leader, Sidi Ould Cheik Abdallahi.

Al Wagef's release is part of a power-sharing deal negotiated in neighboring Senegal that postpones elections originally scheduled for Saturday in exchange for the opposition ending its electoral boycott and Abdallahi formally resigning as president to lead a transitional government.

Aziz names the prime minister of that Government of National Unity and appoints half its ministers. The remaining ministers - including Interior, Finance, and Information - are split between the National Front for the Defense of Democracy, which supports Abdallahi, and the rival opposition Alliance of Democratic Forces.

Al Wagef's party is part of the National Front. Party head Abdel Koudouss Ould Abeidna said the former prime minister's release is the start of an electoral campaign against Aziz.

"This is a victory for the Mauritanian people, and not only for the politicians, but really it is the people who really fought to get here. And we hope that we will have a future civilian government, a civilian president,: he said.

Military rulers repeatedly refused African Union demands to reinstate Abdallahi and instead changed the constitution to allow retired military to stand as political candidates.

Aziz resigned his commission to run for president and said he intends to win July's vote. By agreeing to delay Saturday's election, Aziz will face more serious challengers now that the main opposition parties have dropped their boycott.  But he is still seen as the front runner and now has the opportunity to contest an election more legitimate than Saturday's planned polling which had been widely criticized by the international community.

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