Military overthrew President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's government; announced on state-run news agency it would rule country for up to two years

Mauritania's military overthrew President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya's government and announced on the state-run news agency it would rule the country for up to two years.

In a statement issued in the name of the Military Council for Justice and Democracy, the Mauritanian military announced the armed forces have decided to end what they call the "totalitarian activities" of President Ould Taya and take power for up to two years.

President Ould Taya, who at the time was out of the country attending the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fadh, returned to the region and landed in nearby Niger.

Heavily armed soldiers surrounded strategic buildings at dawn in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, taking control of the airport and the national radio. Roads leading to the presidential palace were also blocked.

Racine Sy, who was on Nouakchott's streets, said that everything was calm and the only gun shots were heard earlier around nine o'clock. He said soldiers had surrounded strategic military points in the city, including army barracks.

"The civil places are blocked, like the ministries, and the presidential palace is also blocked," he said. "But people are going round doing everything they want without any worries."

He said that people in the country believed that it was Mr. Ould Taya's National Guard that led the coup against him.

President Ould Taya came power in a bloodless coup in 1984, and his government claims to have foiled several attempts to overthrow him. In a coup attempt two years ago, the military attacked the presidential palace and sparked two days of violent street battles.

A West Africa analyst, Olly Owen, for the research group Global Insight, says that previous coup attempts have been accompanied by fighting among different factions of the military.

"The Presidential Guard which was the instigator in this case has been used to put down previous coup attempts," he said. "There have been purges of the army after previous coups attempts, a lot of officers imprisoned, but it doesnt seem to have had the desired effect."

President Ould Taya has established links with Washington, as well as with Israel, angering many Arabs in the country. He has also cracked down on Islamic militants and his political opposition during recent years.