August 3, 2005

Army says seizes power in Mauritania

By Ibrahima Sylla

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania's army said on Wednesday
it had seized power to end the "totalitarian" regime of
President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who is out of the
country, and planned to rule for up to two years.

The 53-nation African Union said it condemned all seizure
of power by force and Taya's PRDS party urged all political
forces to denounce the coup, but in the capital hundreds of
people took to the streets, shouting and honking car horns in

Convoys of cars with people hanging out of them shouting
"Praise Be to God" and making victory signs paraded down one of
Nouakchott's main sand-blanketed avenues.

"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," said a statement signed by a "Military
Council for Justice and Democracy."

"This council pledges before the Mauritanian people to
create favorable circumstances for an open and transparent
democracy," the statement, broadcast on state media said.

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

Witnesses said 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 coup d'etat.

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.

"There was no democracy here ... We have been freed from a
dictatorship," said one man, Bilal, aged around 45.

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

Earlier, shops in Nouakchott shut down in a hurry and taxis
refused to pick up people trying to leave the city center.

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

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

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