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Mauritania's Military Ruler Running for President

Mauritania's military ruler says he will run for president in elections he has scheduled for June. The military toppled Mauritania's first freely-elected leader eight months ago.

General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz says he will resign his military commission and run for president June 6.

General Aziz announced his candidacy in an interview with the al-Arabiya television network, saying he will step down in three weeks and allow the President of the Senate to run the country during his campaign for the presidency. He says the move will both prevent a power vacuum and respect the constitution.

General Aziz came to power last August in a coup that toppled the country's first freely-elected leader, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. The African Union suspended Mauritania and imposed a travel ban on members of the military government after General Aziz ignored its call to reinstate Mr. Abdallahi.

General Aziz says that would not serve the greater interests of the Mauritanian people. He says changing the constitution to allow retired soldiers to run in June elections better reflects what he calls Mauritania's "new political and cultural reality."

President Abdallahi says he will not take part in that vote and is urging his supporters to boycott the ballot. The head of Mauritania's democratic opposition, Ahmed Ould Dadah, says General Aziz's candidacy is illegal even if he resigns his military commission because Mauritanian law prohibits those who take power by force from running in the next election.

Mauritanian representatives for the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute told reporters in Nouakchott that the group will not monitor the June vote because it is a unilateral decision against constitutional order. The National Democratic Institute was one of the leading groups of election observers who validated President Abdallahi's 2007 election.

Parliamentary supporters of General Aziz say the June 6th election will go ahead with or without opposition participation. Members of his ruling council are campaigning throughout the country, urging voters to take part in the poll and ignore the opposition boycott.

The U.S. State Department says attempts to silence President Abdallahi and plans to hold unconstitutional elections in June violate democratic norms.