August 3, 2005

Jubilant Mauritanians celebrate end of Taya’s rule

By Ibrahima Sylla

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Jubilant Mauritanians celebrated the
overthrow of the country's president of two decades by military
leaders who quickly announced they planned to rule for up to
two years.

Hundreds of people took to the streets to shout and honk
car horns in celebration at the coup against President Maaouya
Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who was out of the country at the time.
The rally reflected frustration at what opponents called his
repressive rule.

Mauritanians awaited signs on Thursday of what to expect
next from a group of officers who said they seized power on
Wednesday to end more than two decades of "totalitarian" rule
by Taya, promising to rule for up to two years.

"The situation had reached a point where there had to be
change," said Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla, a former military
ruler and Taya's main challenger in 2003 elections.

"I'm sure that any change in these circumstances will be
welcomed by the people," said Haidalla, who has been arrested
several times on charges of plotting to oust Taya.

The overthrow was announced in a statement broadcast on
state media and signed by a "Military Council for Justice and

State radio later said the council would be headed by
Colonel Ely Ould Mohammad Vall.

The African Union and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi
Annan both condemned the seizure of power by force in
Mauritania, which hopes to start pumping oil next year.

The United States demanded that Taya be restored to power.

We "join the African Union in condemning the violence in
Mauritania. And we call for a peaceful return for order under
the constitution and the established government of President
Taya," State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

Mauritania has witnessed a series of uprisings and
attempted military coups in recent years.

Taya, who first seized power in a 1984 putsch, has angered
many Arabs in the country by shifting support from former Iraqi
president Saddam Hussein to Israel and Washington in the 1990s.

Taya, who was in Saudi Arabia for King Fahd's funeral on
Tuesday, landed in Niger's capital hours after news of troop
movements in Nouakchott. His PRDS party denounced the coup.

There were no immediate reports of any casualties during
the coup, although gunfire rang out briefly near the presidency
building on Wednesday and the airport was closed.

Mauritania, an Islamic Republic, is one of only three Arab
League member states that have diplomatic ties with Israel. It
is also considered one of the most repressive countries in the
region toward Islamist movements.

Troops nearly toppled Taya in 2003 during two days of
fighting in Nouakchott, before loyalists prevailed. The
government says it foiled two coup bids in 2004.