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MAURITANIA: Islamists group masterminded coup, says President

NOUAKCHOTT, 16 July 2003 (IRIN) - President Maaouiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya has accused Mauritania's Islamic fundamentalist leaders of masterminding last month's attempted coup, since when about 150 serving and former soldiers have been detained.

Ould Taya commented on the reasons for the June 8 coup attempt for the first time during a visit to the northern iron-mining town of Zouerate last Saturday. He pointed an accusing finger at "those who preach in mosques, who called for and even declared fatwas urging people to support the putsch and fight against the current regime."

The coup attempt led to two days of heavy fighting in the capital, Nouakchott, during which rebel tanks shelled the presidential palace.

It was preceded by a government crackdown against Islamic radicals during May. The government arrested about 30 people and closed a weekly newspaper.

Military sources sources said about 150 soldiers and retired military personnel had been picked up for questioning since the coup, including about 30 officers, but the three main ringleaders were still on the run.

They named these as former army officers Salah Ould Hannena, Mohamed Ould Cheikhna and Ould Mini. Another officer implicated in the coup attempt, Lieutenant Didi Ould Soueidi, was arrested in neighbouring Senegal last month and a judge has ordered his extradition to Nouakchott.

The sources said the detainees had admitted under interrogation that the coup had been in preparation since 1999. Although some of those involved in the plot had been arrested and discharged from the army some time ago, a large group of officers and non-commissioned officers associated with the coup had remained at large waiting for it to be reactivated.

Official sources said the government had appealed to Mali and Algeria to allow Mauritanian security forces the right of hot pursuit into their territory to capture those involved in the coup attempt who were still at large. The head of the state security department, Dedahi Ould Abdallahi, recently traveled to Tunisia and Lybia to appeal for any rebels found seeking refuge there to be arrested and extradited, they added.

Seven civilians, including a supreme court judge and the mayor of the northern port of Noudhibou, were arrested after the coup attempt, but were released on 9 July. It remains unclear whether they were cleared of involvement, or whether charges could still be pressed against them.

Ould Taya has ruled this desert nation of about 2.5 million inhabitants since coming to power in a coup in 1984. The former army colonel legalised opposition parties in 1991, but his ruling Republican Social Democrat Party has retained a tight hold on power since then. Ould Taya is expected to seek a fresh six-year term in presidential elections on 7 November.


Themes: (IRIN) Conflict



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