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Mauritanian Opposition Supporters Clash with Police - 2003-11-05

Supporters of opposition candidates in Mauritania's presidential election have marked the end of the electoral campaign by clashing with police. The campaign was also marred by accusations of harassment of leading opposition candidate Mohamed Ould Haidallah.

Police in full riot gear used tear gas to prevent about 1,000 supporters of opposition candidates from staging a march through the streets of the capital. The crowd included women and children.

Police said the gathering was unlawful because authorities were not notified in advance. Three of the leading opposition candidates were to attend the march.

On Tuesday, police raided the home of Mr. Haidallah to search for weapons. They found what his spokesman, Ali Ould Sneba, described as a few legitimate souvenirs. But the police said they found weapons in Mr. Haidallah's home, and arrested his son.

Mr. Sneba called the raid a deliberate plot by the government to stain the reputation of Mr. Haidallah before the election Friday.

"I think it is a way to provoke a particular atmosphere in order to justify the interruption of this democratic process," he said. "It is a violation of our law, of our constitution. It is a violation of the rule of democracy."

While the Haidallah camp is crying foul play, Imam Cheikh, a spokesman for incumbent candidate Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya, accused Mr. Haidallah of threatening to take power by force if he does not win at the ballot box.

"He is threatening by violence, I think," said Imam Cheikh. "If someone in his case which is searching for being president in this country and who is tied by law and principle of democracy, he is not to have some guns in his house."

Mr. Haidallah is a former military ruler of Mauritania who was overthrown in 1984 by the current president, Mr. Taya. Mr. Haidallah has assembled a broad coalition of supporters ranging from reformists to Islamic radicals.

Besides Mr. Haidallah, the incumbent president faces two other main challengers: Ahmed Ould Daddah, the half-brother of Mauritania's first president, and Massoaud Ould Boulkheir, a descendant of slaves. Two minor candidates are running in the six-man race.

The polls open Friday, and if no candidate wins a majority, a run-off election would be held in two weeks.