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Fighting Resumes in Mauritania Capital as Troops Seek to Quash Insurgents - 2003-06-09

Fighting has resumed Monday in Mauritania's capital, Nouakchott, after reinforcements arrived to help put down a coup attempt in the northwest African nation.

Armored divisions and paratroopers have arrived in Nouakchott from throughout Mauritania to help put down the insurgency, which began Sunday.

A brief lull in fighting ended early Monday as firefights broke out near the airport and near police headquarters, where some of the insurgents have gathered.

Army units are also trying to end widespread looting, which followed mass escapes from jails in Nouakchott after security guards fled.

Dozens of casualties have been reported during the unrest.

Authorities say President Maaouiya Ould Taya, who came to power in a coup in 1984, is leading operations to put down the insurgency from a safe location. Sunday, rebels briefly entered the presidential palace.

Several reports quoting government officials identify the leader of the insurgency as Salah Ould Hnana, a former colonel in Mauritania's army. He is said to have the support of some units in the army and air force.

State radio has been mostly off the air since the start of the unrest, except for a brief period Sunday morning, when it announced the coup had been put down.

The unrest closely follows a government crackdown on suspected Islamic radicals and politicians with links to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Many Islamic activists are also angry that Mauritania is one of only three states in the Arab League that has full diplomatic relations with Israel.

Presidential elections in Mauritania are scheduled for November.