Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 11:52 UK

Mauritanian junta promises polls

File photo of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (l) and Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz shaking hands in Nouakchott.
Mr Abdallahi (l) was ousted by Gen Abdelaziz (r)

The leaders of a military coup in Mauritania have promised to hold elections as soon as possible.

The military rulers, who seized power in a bloodless coup on Wednesday, said in a statement that the elections would be "free and transparent".

The officers overthrew the country's first democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, seizing him after he tried to dismiss army chiefs.

There was widespread international condemnation of the coup.

On Thursday the situation of the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, were reported to be calm.

These elections, which will be held in the shortest possible period, will be free and transparent
Mauritanian ruling council

The whereabouts of the president were still unclear. Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Waqef - who the coup leaders had also detained - was reported to have been taken to a barracks near the presidency.

The new ruling council said in a statement that it would "supervise the holding of presidential elections enabling the relaunch of the democratic process in the country and to reshape it on a perennial basis".

"These elections, which will be held in the shortest possible period, will be free and transparent and will bring for the future a continued and harmonious functioning of all the constitutional powers," the statement said.

It added that the council would "engage in a dialogue with all the political parties and all civic institutions in organizing these elections". No timeframe was given.


Supporters of the coup march through Nouakchott

Mauritania has a long history of coups, with the military involved in nearly every government since its independence from France in 1960.

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule - the product of a military coup in 2005.

The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy.

On Wednesday the president tried to dismiss four senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who responded by launching the coup.

Map of Mauritania

It was later announced that he had formed an 11-member military council to rule the country.

Gen Abdelaziz also asked government ministers to stay on in their posts, the Mauritanian news agency ANI reported.

The so-called state council is made up of eight colonels and three generals, under the leadership of Gen Abdelaziz.

After detaining the president and prime minister the military council said Mr Abdallahi - who came to power in polls last year, taking over from a military junta - was now a "former president".

Though the coup appeared to be largely peaceful, troops deployed on Nouakchott's streets fired tear gas to disperse about 50 protesters as the council annulled his previous decree dismissing the military chiefs.

Aid warning

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon called for the "restoration of constitutional order". Condemnation has also come from the US, the EU, and the African Union (AU).

The European Union warned that it may suspend aid to Mauritania.

Mauritania has been in the grip of a political crisis since a vote of no confidence in the cabinet two weeks ago.

On Monday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party.

Reports suggest some of the generals orchestrated the mass resignation, says the BBC's James Copnall in the region.

Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices.

The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government.

Mauritania is one of the world's poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer.

Troops stage coup in Mauritania
06 Aug 08 |  Africa
Mauritania vote 'free and fair'
12 Mar 07 |  Africa
Country profile: Mauritania
04 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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