Mauritania coup leader cedes power to seek office

By Ahmed Mohamed
April 15, 2009
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NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania—The leader of a coup that ousted Mauritania's elected government gave up power Wednesday, freeing him to seek the presidency in balloting aimed at returning civilian rule.

Senate president Ba Mamadou Mbare was quickly sworn in as interim leader of the desert nation in western Africa.

Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said in an address to the nation that he was giving up power to conform with constitutional regulations governing participation in the coup-prone country's balloting, set for June 6.

Mbare became the first-ever black leader of the Arab-dominated country, where Mauritanians of sub-Saharan descent are still marginalized. Some continue to work in conditions of familial servitude that activists call slavery.

The junta's coup in August ousted Mauritania's first freely elected president since the country's independence from France in 1960.

The African Union suspended Mauritania from membership and last month said it was imposing travel bans and asset freezes on officials involved in the coup.

The U.S. and France, the country's former colonial ruler, canceled aid to Africa's newest oil producer after the coup.

Deposed President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was detained during the August takeover and released four months later.

Mauritania has had numerous coups since independence from France in 1960. It appeared the country had turned a corner when a different military junta organized elections deemed free and fair. But less than 1 1/2 years after taking office, Abdallahi had a falling out with the country's top generals, firing several of them.

Hours later, the same generals announced a coup, taking Abdallahi into custody and imprisoning his wife and children in the presidential palace.