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Repression of Pro-Democracy Demonstrations Raises Tension in Mauritania

For the second time in three days, police in Mauritania have used clubs and tear gas to disperse demonstrators calling for the re-instatement of the country's president, who was deposed in a military coup d'etat. The crackdown has heightened tension in West African nation, as we hear from VOA's Scott Bobb in Dakar.

Pro-democracy activists rallied Tuesday in Nouakchott, chanting for the return to power of deposed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

But the demonstration was quickly dispersed by police using batons and tear gas. Two people were treated for minor injuries.

The march was organized by trade unions that oppose the government of Mohamad Ould Abdel Aziz, which two months ago overthrew President Cheikh Abdallahi, the first elected president in Mauritania in more than two decades.

A pro-democracy coalition of 11 parties called the National Front for the Defense of Democracy says it will continue the protests, although its supporters were prevented from demonstrating two days before.

The president of the coalition, Oumar Ould Yali, said Mauritania has signed international agreements that forbid taking power by force.

He says those who have the interests of Mauritania at heart should oppose the coup d'etat because investors will only come if there is stability in the country.

The United States has suspended aid to Mauritania and the African Union issued a deadline, which expired Tuesday, for the government to restore the elected leadership or face diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions.

But many Mauritanian parties support the coup, highlighting a growing rift in Mauritanian society.

The vice president of one of these, Sanghot Ousman Racine of the Union for Democracy and Progress, said Mauritanians should reject any attempt by foreign governments to pressure his country.

He says Mauritania is an independent state and is not controlled by the United Nations or the African Union. He says any solution will have to come from within the country.

Amid the rising tensions another group, called the Mauritanian Intellectuals Club for Democracy and Development, is urging a third way. One of its leaders, former ambassador Mohamed Lemine Ould Ketab, says the AU threat is not helpful.

"Ultimatums are not efficient," he said. "Sanctions are not efficient. They would not bring people to do what they are not ready to do."

His group says Mauritanians must find a solution through dialogue and negotiation.

A senior Mauritanian delegation met Tuesday with AU officials in Ethiopia. The African Union subsequently issued a statement saying it was standing by its position.