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Former Military Ruler Inaugurated as Mauritanian President

Mauritania's former military ruler has taken the oath of office as the nation's new civilian president. His political opponents are still challenging the outcome of last month's election.

Former general Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was sworn in as president a year after taking power in a military coup that toppled the nation's first freely-elected leader.

In a ceremony at Nouakchott's Olympic Stadium, President Aziz told a crowd of 20,000 Wednesday evening that he will fight terrorism and is committed to improving the living conditions of the poor.

Mr. Aziz won election last month with more than 50 percent of the vote following a well-organized campaign that portrayed him as the "President of the Poor". The 54-year-old vowed to improve access to health care while lowering food and fuel prices.

By winning outright in the first round, he avoided a second-round run off in which his political opponents had vowed to unite against him.

Those opponents - chiefly National Assembly President Messaoud Ould Boulkheir and Official Opposition Leader Ahmed Ould Daddah - say the July vote was an electoral coup d'etat meant to legitimatize last year's coup.

In a written statement Wednesday, the opposition leaders again said the vote was neither free, nor democratic, nor transparent. They say they are not concerned by the president's inauguration and believe the political crisis in Mauritania continues.

But despite some irregularities in last month's vote, the results were verified by both the Interior Ministry and the Constitutional Council. Most of the international community has now concluded that President Aziz was elected fairly.

French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet attended the inauguration.

Joyandet says the new president accepted all the demands of the international community by having a transitional government with the military and ran as a candidate in the campaign like all the other candidates in a vote that the Constitutional Council says was transparent.

With the president's inauguration, Joyandet says Mauritania is once again a key French partner in the region.

He encouraged greater cooperation between Mauritania and Mali in the fight against terrorism. Al-Qaeda's North Africa affiliate has been active in the area, attacking government troops and kidnapping foreign tourists.

While Mauritania's leading political opponents say they will not cooperate with the new Aziz government, members of the International Crisis Group are hoping there will eventually be some reconciliation.

African Union Ambassador to Belgium Mohamed Sale Nadif was part of the International Crisis Group that negotiated the transitional government that led to last month's vote.

Nadif says the group is calling on all Mauritanians to maintain their internal political dialogue. He says the legality of the election has now been decided. What is left is to continue the dialogue between the government and its opponents to confront the main challenges of development and political stability.

Mauritania could use some political stability. The new Aziz administration is Mauritania's fifth government in just over five years.