August 8, 2005

Mauritania waits for junta to name new government

By Nick Tattersall

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania's new military rulers
face their first credibility test on Monday as they start
naming a caretaker government after a coup which ended two
decades of authoritarian rule in the Islamic Republic.

The military council which swept President Maaouya Ould
Sid'Ahmed Taya from power last week has been riding a wave of
good will, with people taking to the streets in celebration at
the end of a government seen as corrupt and dictatorial.

Dubai-based satellite television Al Arabiya said Taya has
vowed to return to his country "soon," without elaborating.
Opposition parties have demanded that he face trial for crimes
they say he committed during his 21-year rule.

"The ousted president stresses he will return to Mauritania
soon," the channel quoted Taya as saying in an interview which
it plans to broadcast later.

The new junta has started freeing political prisoners, held
meetings with parties from all sides and promised presidential
elections within two years, whipping up popular support from
around the West African country as it does so.

But as the euphoria subsides, talk is turning to who the
military council -- led by Taya's former security chief Colonel
Ely Ould Mohamed Vall -- will pick for its interim cabinet.

The prime minister it appointed on Sunday -- Sidi Mohamed
Ould Boubacar, a former premier under Taya who later became
Mauritania's ambassador to France -- is already stirring

"I'd hoped for better. I wanted a clear line drawn under
the old regime. This is continuity, taking the same people and
starting again," said Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, head of the
Popular Progressive Alliance, a main opposition party.

"But you have to give the council the benefit of the doubt
and give them some time. The question is whether they have the
political will," he told Reuters.

Power has not changed hands through the ballot box in
Mauritania since independence from France in 1960, leaving some
skeptical as to whether the leaders of the latest coup will
really make sweeping changes.

"Vall was a friend of the former president," said one
student in his 20s, sipping coffee in a Nouakchott cafe.

"You don't just wake up one day and think, damn, I've been
serving the wrong guy for the past 21 years," he said,
suggesting the new leader may have a similar outlook to the


Taya seized power in a 1984 coup and brooked little dissent
over the next two decades.

He managed to ostracize Mauritania both from sub-Saharan
Africa -- by expelling thousands of black Africans -- and from
the Arab world, by establishing diplomatic links with Israel.

Residents in the dusty and litter-strewn capital speak of a
police state in which under cover agents, sometimes close
relatives, exposed anyone who spoke out against the government.

"These people would never have come out like this before,"
said one bystander as another convoy of cars with young men
making victory signs and honking their horns drove by.

"Even if they didn't arrest you they'd get you sacked."

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