Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Sunday, 21 December 2008

Mauritania frees deposed leader

Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi
Mr Abdallahi was overthrown in August

Mauritania's deposed President, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, has been released from house arrest by security forces who overthrew him in August.

He was taken from his home town of Lemden, where he had been under house arrest, to his house in the capital, Nouakchott, where he was freed.

The government says Mr Abdallahi is now free to travel and make speeches.

There has been intense international pressure on the coup leaders to return the country to democracy.

France and the US had cancelled their aid, pending Mr Abdallahi's release.

The African Union also suspended the country following the 6 August coup.

Mauritania's communications minister, Abdulrahman Ould Mein, told the BBC's Focus on Africa that the former president is now a free man.

"He is free, he can travel, he can call, he can give speeches, like any citizen of this country," he said.

Mr Abdallahi became Mauritania's first democratically elected leader in 2007 after a coup two years earlier, partly instigated by General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz.

On 6 August, Mr Abdallahi, as president, tried to dismiss four senior army officers, including Gen Abdelaziz, the head of the presidential guard, who responded by launching the coup.

It came after a fortnight of political crisis following a vote of no confidence in the cabinet.

Gen Abdelaziz appointed a transitional government to stay in power until new elections, to be organised in late 2009.

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

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