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Mauritanian Coup Leaders Assume Presidential Powers


Coup leaders in Mauritania have given themselves new powers, despite international condemnation of the August 6 takeover. The military leaders also say they are in a better position to fight off possible terrorist threats than the civilian government they deposed. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

The military junta released what it called a constitutional ordinance, defining its new powers.

It said the overall aim was to assume transitional authority until new presidential elections can be held, but no date for elections was set.

It said the head of the military council, former presidential guard commander, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, had the power to name a new prime minister.

It also says the junta can perform duties of the parliament if the assembly is inhibited in any way. It saluted military officials for not fighting each other during the bloodless coup.

General Abdelaziz has told foreign reporters he would not rule out running in elections.

London-based Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman says the situation is very different from 2005, when then coup-leader Ely Ould Mohamed Vall promised not to run in post-coup elections.

"In 2005, the situation was completely different. He (Ould Vall) was at the helm of a coup that brought a 21-year dictatorship to an end and that received the tacit support of the international community. But now you have a situation where the coup plotters have overthrown a legitimate government," Agyeman said.

On Monday, coup leaders released the deposed prime minister and several other high-ranking officials, but not President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

The prime minister, who immediately took part in an anti-coup protest in the capital Nouakchott, said Mr. Abdallahi was in good health, and patiently waiting to return to power.

But the Middle East and North Africa editor for the Jane's Country Risk publication, David Hartwell, says Mr. Abdallahi overplayed his hand by firing the country's top security officials on the eve of the coup, especially since he was becoming unpopular, amid high prices, suspicion of government corruption, and an apparent rise of Islamic radicalism.

"He may well have thought that he could have gotten away with it. He may well have thought the military had been out of power for 18 months but he may have overestimated how much support he had, he certainly overestimated how much support he had within his own party, many of whom are very close to the military," Hartwell said.

The African Union has said Mauritania will be suspended at least until a constitutional government is restored.

Outside Africa, France followed the United States in halting all non-humanitarian aid, while an EU spokesman said the group is considering cutting off development aid.

Mauritania, which straddles black and Arab Africa, also benefits from U.S. help to combat possible terrorist activity within its borders. In wide ranging comments he has made to foreign reporters this week, the coup leader said the military junta would take a harder line against suspected al-Qaida militants.

He said in the past, the military fought against this threat with positive results, by arresting and bringing to justice suspected militants.

Since taking power following democratic elections last year, President Abdallahi had released some well-known Islamic radicals from jail, but dozens remain behind bars.