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Mauritanian Coup Leader Vows Harder Line

The coup leader in Mauritania has vowed a harder line on drug trafficking, terrorist activity and illegal immigration in his first public speech since overthrowing an elected president earlier this month. He also promised elections, but gave no date. Many members of the president's party are backing the coup, but some are still organizing almost daily protests. Ricci Shryock has more from our regional bureau in Dakar.

After his first public speech on Sunday, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz received more backing from influential politicians.

Twenty-six members of parliament resigned from ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi's party in support of the coup.

Local journalist Seyid Ould Seyid says General Aziz's speech has drawn political support, but he still did not set a date for new elections.

"People are trying to get any promises from him to specify a date for the election or to set up the transitional period," he said.

Seyid adds the tone of the speech makes some feel the general could remain in power for a long time.

"He has promised the Mauritanians that he will solve all their economic and political and economical crises. And even educational as well," he said. "It seems that he is planning a whole program. For observers, it seems that he is likely to stay in power for a long time."

But not all politicians support the coup.

The former prime minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waqef has been leading almost daily protests to reinstate President Abdellahi, who hours before the coup had fired top military officials, including General Aziz.

The President of the Club of Mauritanian Intellectuals for Democracy and Development, Mohamed Lemine Ould el Ketab, says he thinks the coup was inevitable.

"People wanted a change. And that change - only the military could have introduced it. It is unfortunate," he said. "Our political class is not mature enough and is not experienced enough. This is why they will change their hearts at any shake. We do not have any clear-cut political families. They are there without any experience."

Ketab, who is also a former Mauritanian ambassador to Nigeria, adds the military took advantage of crisis of confidence within the government.

The international community has denounced the coup. The United States has already suspended some non-humanitarian aid, and last week U.S. officials said that was just the beginning if Mauritanian powers did not reinstate overthrown President Abdallahi.

Mauritania's army has been receiving U.S. aid as part of what the U.S. government says is the war on terror. Mauritania, which straddles black and Arab Africa, has large parts of the country which are unpoliced.