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Page last updated at 21:49 GMT, Monday, 11 August 2008 22:49 UK

Mauritania's toppled PM released

Mauritania's toppled Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef, file pic from June 2008
The prime minister was freed along with three other government officials

Mauritania's deposed prime minister and three other high-ranking government officials have been released, leaders of last week's army-led coup say.

The "state council" said it had freed Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Waqef and three other allies of ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

The statement did not mention Mr Abdallahi, who has been in custody since he was overthrown last Wednesday.

Western diplomats have urgently called for his release.

"The prime minister was freed Monday afternoon along with three other government officials," the prime minister's spokesman, Mohamed Ould Maayouf, told AFP news agency.

"I understand that only the president is still being held."

'Unacceptable' poll plan

Earlier, France said it was suspending all non-humanitarian aid to the North-West African nation - a former French colony.

Gen Muhammad Ould Abdelaziz, 10 August 2008
Gen Abdelaziz has said the deposed president is in good health

The French decision came after the US said it would suspend all non-humanitarian aid.

The ambassadors of France, Spain, the US and Germany told the coup leader his plan to hold new elections was unacceptable.

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz has refused to rule out standing in the elections.

The AU has said Mauritania, one of the world's poorest countries, would be suspended at least until a constitutional government was restored. But Gen Abdelaziz said any international sanctions would not alter his behaviour.

He has said he will organise a rapid return to democratic rule, and indicated he may stand for president.

In an interview with the BBC, he declined to set a date for elections, which he insisted would be transparent.

'Return to legality'

After their release, Mr El-Waqef and the other officials attended a rally to celebrate their freedom at a football stadium in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott.

Map of Mauritania

They received a rapturous reception from the several hundred-strong crowd, and used the event to call for the president's release.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr El-Waqef said he had been held in "good conditions", and had a simple message for his former captors: "Return to legality."

He said Mr Abdallahi was in good health, but was not sure if or when he would be released.

Trucks of riot police were parked near the stadium's gates, a clear warning to those inside not to take to the streets.

Gen Abdelaziz led a coup last Wednesday that overthrew Mauritania's first democratically-elected leader.

The AU said it would suspend Mauritania following the coup.

Gen Abdelaziz told the BBC's James Copnall in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, that he had been forced to act after the deposed president decided to sack the country's four most senior military officers.

He said Mr Abdallahi had been leading the country away from democracy, and the sacking of military chiefs would have led to fighting between military factions.

"We are thinking of organising elections, which we want to be transparent and democratic," Gen Abdelaziz said.





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