Page last updated at 09:16 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Mauritania sanctions 'to remain'

By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Libyan leader and African Union chairman Muammar Gaddafi in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott earlier this month
Col Gaddafi said the AU sanctions were no longer necessary

The African Union says it will maintain sanctions on Mauritania, despite suggestions from its chairman, Muammar Gaddafi, that they would be dropped.

The head of the AU's Peace and Security Council (PSC) says it is compiling a list of those to target in the regime.

The sanctions were put in place after Mauritania's president was overthrown in a military coup last year.

But visiting the country earlier this month, Col Gaddafi said they were no longer necessary.

Asked about this embarrassing contradiction, the chairman of the PSC offered a charitable explanation to AFP news agency - perhaps Col Gaddafi was engaged in an initiative of his own to restore legality, which would then automatically remove the need for sanctions.

'Fait accompli'

When the African Union summit elected Col Gaddafi as its chairman at the beginning of February, many delegates predicted a bumpy year ahead.

He made it clear from the start that he saw a much larger role for himself than just chairing the twice yearly meetings of heads of state.

On a visit to the Mauritanian capital earlier this month, the Libyan leader infuriated supporters of the ousted president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

They said Col Gaddafi told them that the coup was now a fait accompli and they should embrace reality.

As he left, he told journalists that since the current leadership of General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz had promised to organise elections in June, the file was now closed.

Faced with a sudden flurry of coups and attempted coups, the African Union as a body is trying to cling to its principle of not recognising illegitimate governments.

But having an assembly chairman who himself came to power through a coup d'etat clearly is not going to help them hold the line.

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