August 3, 2005

Army says takes power in Mauritania

By Ibrahima Sylla

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania's armed forces have set
up a military council to rule the country and end the
"totalitarian" regime of President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya,
a statement broadcast on state media said on Wednesday.

The communique, signed by a "Military Council for Justice
and Democracy," said the council would rule the Islamic
Republic for a maximum of two years. Taya is out of the

"The armed forces and security forces have unanimously
decided to put a definitive end to the totalitarian activities
of the defunct regime under which our people have suffered so
much over recent years," the statement said.

"This council pledges before the Mauritanian people to
create favorable circumstances for an open and transparent
democracy," it said.

Witnesses said earlier that green-bereted members of Taya's
guard had taken over state television and radio. Gunfire rang
out briefly near the presidency building and the airport was

An opposition leader and a military source said they
believed the head of the presidential guard, Colonel Mohamed
Ould Abdel-Aziz, was involved in the apparent coup d'etat.

Taya, who attended the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd
in Riyadh on Tuesday, arrived in Niger's capital Niamey hours
after news of the troop movements in Nouakchott emerged.

There were reports that some senior members of the military
had been arrested but it was not possible to confirm them.


Taya seized power in a 1984 coup. He has angered many Arabs
in the country by shifting support from former Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein to Israel and Washington in the 1990s.

Mauritania -- which hopes to start pumping oil early next
year -- is one of only three Arab League member states that
have established diplomatic ties with Israel.

It is also one of the most repressive countries in the
region toward Islamist movements, analysts say.

Scores of Islamic opposition activists have been arrested
since April and accused of colluding with Algeria's Salafist
Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an al Qaeda ally.

Dissident soldiers nearly toppled Taya in 2003 during two
days of fighting in Nouakchott before loyalist forces
prevailed. The government says it foiled two more coup bids in

"We have heard that there has been a coup d'etat but we
don't know who's involved. We don't know whether it is
something that has succeeded or failed," Sid Ahmed Abeidna, the
British honorary consul in Nouakchott, told Reuters.

A Reuters witness on the border with Senegal said
Mauritanian border guards were preventing people from leaving
the country.

Shops in the sand-blanketed capital were closed and taxis
were not stopping to pick up people trying to leave the city

"I heard a burst of gunfire near the presidency. I saw
scared people running away. Civil servants have all left their
offices," a second Reuters witness in the capital said.

"All the army is in the streets. It's blocking the roads to
the presidency and the main routes through town," a civil
servant who lives near the presidency building told Reuters.

The United States has been sending military experts to
train soldiers in Mauritania and other countries in the region
to combat militants thought to be operating in the Sahara.

The U.S. European Command, which overseas U.S. military
operations in 91 countries and territories in Europe and most
of Africa, said it was monitoring the situation closely.

(Additional reporting by Diadie Ba, Nick Tattersall in