The post-coup military council in Mauritania has opened a national conference to prepare free and fair elections over the next two years, as well as establish new frameworks for good governance.

The conference began with speeches by the head of the military council, Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, as well as by representatives from African, Arab, French-speaking, and Islamic regional organizations.

Hundreds of participants from political parties, civil society, and Islamic groups arrived early at the Grand Palace in Nouakchott for the conference's opening, while hundreds of others who were not invited massed outside amid high expectations.

One of those who was able to get in was local journalist Salem Bokari, who like many other journalists, Islamic leaders and opposition activists, faced persecution under the 21-year rule of former President Maaouiya Ould Taya.

"This is the most important meeting in the history of Mauritania," said Mr. Bokari. "It is a very big meeting to identify a very important understanding between Mauritanians without exclusion. How to go to the next elections and how to avoid the mistakes of the past under the former regime of President Taya."

Mr. Taya, who was deposed in a bloodless military coup in August while he was in Saudi Arabia, always refused to hold a national conference, saying these had led to civil wars in other African countries.

The 17-member military council, whose members have pledged not to run in future elections, say they want to prepare free and fair municipal, legislative, senatorial, and presidential polls over the next two years. They also want to hold a constitutional referendum.

Mr. Bokari says the national conference is opening with three days of presentations of what the new government has worked on.

"[The] first commission is for the democratic transitional process, the second one is for the reform of the justice to make a very independent justice, the third commission is for specializing in transparency and fighting against corruption," he added.

The presentations will be followed by workshops and what the military council says will be decisions based on consensus. The recently renamed party of Mr. Taya, who remains in exile, is also being represented.

An analyst with the London-based research group Global Insight, Olly Owen, does not believe his supporters will be disruptive to the transitional process.

"The thing is with Ould Taya his regime as it lost popularity it became increasingly based on a very narrow clan based ethnic clique from his northwestern part of the country so that he's going to have people in that part of the country that are going to obviously miss the dalliance they had under his regime and there shouldn't be too much of a backlash," commented Mr. Owen. "I think the thing with Ould Taya was he wasn't deposed by anyone of the previous popular type of coups which were foiled, he was deposed by very much his own clique who saw him as no longer [able] to be competent in managing the country."

The large lightly populated country which straddles north and sub-Saharan Africa has in recent decades been controlled by the Arab-dominated army, and regime changes have only come through coups. The last coup received light international condemnation, before acceptance and then calls for the organization of free and fair elections.