- Authorities in Mauritania claim that a group of renegade Islamist soldiers yesterday again tried to topple President Maaouya Ould Taya. Thirty persons of the armed forces have been arrested in Nouakchott, which today is calm with businesses reopening.
The government President Ould Taya was to be removed in a coup while the President was on an official visit to France, according to a radio announcement by Mauritanian Defence Minister Baba Ould Sidi. Mr Ould Sidi informed Mauritanians that loyal troops had succeeded in foiling the coupmakers' plans.
The Defence Minister further claimed that the renegade soldiers belonged to the same "Islamist" group that almost succeeded in staging a military coup in June last year. It was "the very same people," Mr Ould Sidi said in the radio announcement.
He informed that about 30 soldiers, including 15 officers, two of them colonels, had been arrested by troops loyal to President Ould Taya. The alleged coup plotters were said to have planned to attack army barracks in several Mauritanian cities later this week while the President was in France.
The group that staged last year's attempted coup d'état has been termed "Islamists" by the Nouakchott government. President Ould Taya, himself a putschist, likes to portray himself as pro-Western. His government early last year started cracking down on alleged Islamists, including closing down media operated by these groups.
Human rights groups claim little evidence of Islamist operations in Mauritania has been presented by the government and that trials against alleged Islamists have been far below international standards. Claims of "Islamist activities" in Mauritania therefore often are seen in relation to President Ould Taya's strengthening of his power base.
Analysts close to the Mauritanian opposition thus already yesterday noted that the arrests bore all the hallmarks of an army purge by President Ould Taya. Rather than being "Islamists", the arrested soldiers and officers principally belonged to the same ethnic group as those nearly 120 arrested after last year's coup attempt, being in opposition to President Ould Taya.
In the Mauritanian capital, residents have noticed little of the military action against the alleged coup plotters. Nouakchott residents and companies were taken by surprise by the radio announcement of the Defence Minister and many chose to wait and see whether the situation in the streets was safe.
This afternoon, however, business went as normal in Nouakchott. Woodside, the Australian company leading operations on Mauritania's first producing oil field, today stated to the Australian Stock Exchange that "the situation in the capital is described as calm with business continuing as normal." Woodside would however "continue to monitor the situation" in Mauritania. "All Woodside staff and contractors have been accounted for," the company added.
During the day, work had slowly returned to normal at the new Mauritanian oilfield after businesses and workers felt assured that the government was in control of the situation. Also investors felt assured of government control and Woodside shares ended the day with a positive result. Other oil companies operating in Mauritania however closed with negative results.
According to observers, offshore oil drilling and exploration activities by international companies would not be severely affected by the incident on the short term. There are now however increased concerns over the long term stability in Mauritania, which could scare off more investors to the country's nascent oil industry.
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