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Mauritania's Former Leader to Appeal Conviction - 2003-12-29

A former president of Mauritania says he will appeal his conviction and sentencing for plotting to overthrow the current government.

Former military leader Mohamed Ould Haidallah was convicted Sunday for trying to take power through force, following the presidential election last month, in which he was a losing candidate.

The sentencing also was handed down Sunday - a five-year suspended prison term, revocation of his civil rights for five years, and a $1,200 fine.

Speaking from his home after being released from custody, Mr. Haidallah said he would appeal the conviction in Mauritania's supreme court. As in court, the former president proclaimed his innocence and said he was expecting a verdict that would give him total liberation.

Mr. Haidallah says he also plans to contest the election results from the November election, which gave President Maaouiya Ould Taya another term, while leaving him a distant second. He alleged the results were rigged. Mr. Haidallah was put in jail two days after voting took place.

The court also issued verdicts in the cases of 14 other alleged co-conspirators in the plot.

Five-year suspended sentences were given to Mr. Haidallah's campaign director, his spokesman, a businessman, a politician and one of his sons. Three others were given lighter sentences, while six others were acquitted.

Speaking outside the courtroom in the capital, Nouakchott, a former lawyer and aide to another opposition leader, Yacoub Diallo, said he thought the verdict had been a political decision. Mr. Diallo accuses President Taya of trying to steal judicial powers by making repeated statements that his rival was guilty. He says the prosecution's case was completely unfounded.

Prosecutors had pushed for five to 20 years of forced labor for those convicted. The head of Nouakchott's lawyer's association, Melaynine Ould Khalifa, says the leniency of the sentences shows the judiciary maintained its independence. He says Mauritanians should be proud that the rights of the accused were respected and that the trial proceeded so peacefully. He also says he hopes the decision will not lead to more unrest.

Mauritania's political history has been marked by repeated coups and coup attempts. President Taya survived a brief insurgency in the capital in June.

Mr. Haidallah himself came to power following a coup in 1979, before being overthrown by the current president in 1984.

Mauritania, which straddles Arab north Africa and black sub-Saharan Africa, is an impoverished mostly desert nation, but recent offshore oil finds could boost its revenues.