- The armed forces of Mauritania seem to have succeeded in toppling the government of President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya. Via state media, army officers announced the creation of a military council that would lead the country for two years, preparing for "an open and transparent democracy."
The Mauritanian army officers seized the opportunity of President Ould Taya's absence due to his participation in Saudi King Fahd's funeral. The elected Mauritanian President is reported to have landed in Niger's capital Niamey, awaiting developments in Mauritania.
The coup was staged in the early hours of today. By 05:00, troops supporting the coup were already in control of all state media - including the national broadcaster and the state news agency AMI - of major roads in and around the capital, Nouakchott, and of the city's international airport.
The coup makers however were stopped by loyal troops when trying to take control of the Nouakchott presidential palace. News reports from the agencies AFP and Reuters indicate that there had been a shootout in front of the palace. It is uncertain whether anybody was killed or hurt in the battle and whether the coup makers are now in control of the presidency. It however appears that the coup has been carried out successfully.
While the gunshots at the presidential palace caused panic in the Mauritanian capital during the morning hours, a relative calm has already returned to Nouakchott. No further incidents of violence have been reported and most businesses are open as usual.
The coup plotters have already released a message through the state agency AMI, saying they are now in control. According to the statement, the decision to topple the "oppressive" President had been made "unanimously" by Mauritania's national armed forces and security forces.
- The national armed forces and security forces have decided to institute a Military Council for Justice and Democracy, the statement said. "This Council is committed before the Mauritanian people to create the appropriate circumstances for an open and transparent democracy. This will enable the civil society and all political activists to participate with complete freedom."
The army also made guarantees that it will soon leave power and safeguard law and justice. "Our armed forces and security forces will not rule for longer than the necessary period required to prepare and create the genuine democratic institutions. This period will not exceed two years at the most," the statement said. The Council finally confirmed "Mauritania's commitment to all the international treaties and agreements which it has signed."
Mauritania has been plagued by coup attempts - or alleged attempts - during the last few years. Plotters came close to toppling President Ould Taya in 2003, when army rebels for several hours had taken control of central Nouakchott. The President, who came to power in a coup in 1984, has become increasingly unpopular for his crackdown on alleged Islamists and his support to the US and Israel.
President Ould Taya has been elected three times, but all elections have been widely criticised for not being fair or transparent. The opposition in Mauritania has largely been forced to go underground as its most popular leaders regularly are imprisoned. It is therefore believed that there is a wide support for a change of regime in the country, if changes include pro-democracy reforms.
Mauritania also recently has entered the club of oil-producing nations, with large offshore oil deposits still being unused and unexplored. The new oil revenues - which could make a large change in this poor nation of only 2.7 million inhabitants - may also have caused the recent increase in attempted military coups. Mauritania, some observers fear, may already note the curse of oil.
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