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Mauritania Remains Calm After Military Coup

Mauritania's capital is relatively calm a day after a bloodless military coup that ousted president President Maaouiya Ould Taya. The palace guard, which took power, ended the president's 21 years of rule.

It took the military just a few hours to depose the president and dismantle what it called his "totalitarian regime." The military council named security chief Colonel Ely Ould Mohammed Vall as the new leader and, in a radio broadcast, said it will stay in power until new elections can be held.

The military coup was quickly denounced by the African Union, the United Nations and the United States. Washington called for a peaceful return of power to President Ould Taya.

But the sentiment on the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, was different. Racine Sy, who lives in Nouakchott, says people are relieved the change took place.

"There is a deep feeling of relief, because there was a lot of frustration and injustice in this country," said Racine Sy.

West Africa analyst Olly Owen of the London-based World Markets Research Centre says it's no surprise that citizens seem relieved.

"I think there is quite a lot of support for what is being done in that no one is particularly fond of Auld Taya, but at the same time, it's a city that has seen three or four coup attempts in the last two years, and I can understand that population might not be too keen to stick their necks out," he said.

He says the change of government in the Nouakchott coup is not all bad.

"It is an opportunity for positive development, in that the decision he was making as a political leader became extremely unwise and contributing to the building up of pressures in the country, which was leading to more and more threats of coups or terrorism or economic crisis and popular hardship," he explained. "So I think that his removal, at least, gives a window of opportunity for those things to be addressed, and the unknown quantity yet is how serious the people who took over are about addressing them."

The president angered many in his own country when he established diplomatic relations with Israel, making Mauritania only the third Arab country to do so. He had also encountered domestic opposition when he aligned himself squarely behind the United States in the war against international terrorism.

President Ould Taya, who was in Saudi Arabia at the time of the coup, was not allowed to return, and is currently in nearby Niger.