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Libyan Leader Gadhafi Presides Over Mauritania Talks

Libyan head of state Moammar Gadhafi is in Mauritania, where he opened multi-lateral talks aimed at resolving the months-old political crisis there.

In his capacity as current head of the African Union, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has opened talks in Mauritania with representatives of the deposed president and the armed forces leader that seized power last August in a bloodless coup.

A Gadhafi spokesman announced that all parties had agreed to pre-conditions in a meeting at a conference center in Nouakchott, and that a memorandum of understanding for the talks had been signed.

In an attempt to establish a dialogue, Mr. Gadhafi met last week in Libya with Sidi Mohamed Ould Sheikh Abdallahi, Mauritania's first democratically-elected president, who was toppled last August in a bloodless coup led by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The parties, which include a coalition of political parties opposing the coup, representatives of the military junta now in charge of the country, and the former elected government, all insisted on addressing certain issues before beginning talks.

Mauritanian law prevents members of the military from running for political office. One of the sticking points of the discussions is a proposal to open the election to all Mauritanians, paving the way for General Aziz's candidacy. Members of the political class would prefer to see the ban on his candidacy upheld.

Late Tuesday, Colonel Gadhafi led a heavily attended prayer service at the national stadium to honor the anniversary of the birth of Mohammed.

Mr. Gadhafi was accompanied at the service by representatives of all the parties involved in the talks, including junta leader Aziz. It was the first time military and political leaders had come together since the coup. Mr. Abdallahi was the only important absence, having returned to his native village after arriving from Libya.

During the service, the Libyan leader reiterated his belief that what he calls "outside parties" are attempting to influence events in Mauritania, and called once again for an African solution to the crisis.

Junta leader Aziz has repeatedly refused demands from elements of the international community to restore democratically-elected Abdallahi to power. The European Union has threatened sanctions, and the United States has withheld millions of dollars in aid and funds for military cooperation.

The African Union has imposed its own sanctions, and after a February meeting in Paris, called for Mr. Gadhafi, as the current head, to seek out a solution that will be acceptable to Mauritanian stakeholders and the international community.