Police in Mauritania have seized weapons and ammunition allegedly linked to the main opposition candidate in this Friday's presidential election, a former president who came to power through a coup d'etat.
Police say Monday's seizure of weapons follows information from inside the campaign of leading opposition candidate Mohamed Ould Haidallah.
The police say campaign officials were worried that what they called extremist supporters of their candidate could launch an armed rebellion if he loses Friday's election. Police also played a tape of Mr. Ould Haidallah warning of instability if President Maaouiya Ould Taya wins the election.
Dozens of police officers acting without warrants raided mosques and homes linked to Mr. Ould Haidallah on Monday. A police spokesman says AK-47s, rifles and ammunition were seized.
The campaign director for Mr. Ould Haidallah says police seized two old rifles used for hunting at the candidate's home. He said the police action was a violation of privacy.
Mr. Ould Haidallah, a former military leader, has a broad range of support among Islamic militants, liberal reformers and Baathist politicians close to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He has campaigned for the implementation of Islamic Sharia law, reintegrating Mauritania into the Economic Community of West African states, more freedom of expression for opposition media, and for reconsideration of Mauritania's diplomatic relations with Israel, which were established four years ago.
Observers say he is the strongest of the five opposition candidates. These include Mauritania's first black presidential candidate and the first woman candidate.
Arab-dominated and largely impoverished Mauritania, which has a population of fewer than three million people, is about to begin exploiting oil reserves offshore.
A British-based analyst on Middle Eastern and African affairs, Kate Luxford, said Friday's election is much more hotly contested than the country's other two multi-party presidential elections in 1992 and 1997. "Six years ago, basically, President Taya did not have any significant opposition because opposition parties had withdrawn from their campaign out of concerns about electoral fraud and vote rigging and whatnot. So this is really perhaps the most vigorous campaign and competition that the president has seen since coming to power in a coup in 1984," she said.
That coup deposed Mr. Ould Haidallah. President Ould Taya himself survived a coup attempt in June, blaming it on dissident officers in the army and Islamic activists.
Mauritanian human rights lawyer Brahim Ebety said he fears Friday's election will not be free and fair. Mr. Ebety said the Mauritanian media have not given fair coverage to opposition candidates, but rather have heavily favored President Ould Taya.
Mr. Ebety was part of a group trying to organize an independent association to promote transparency in the election process, but he says the Interior Ministry blocked the effort.
Campaigning ends Wednesday. If no candidate wins a majority, a second round will be held later this month.