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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2005

Mauritania falls to the military

A MILITARY coup d'etat in Mauritania last week overthrew President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmad Taya, who had himself come to power the same way in 1984. That'll teach him to leave the country.

The apparently nonviolent action took place while Mr. Taya was away attending the funeral of Saudi King Fahd. In response the African Union's Peace and Security Council suspended Mauritania, pending a restoration of what it called "constitutional order" in the largely desert, coastal West African state of some 3 million Muslims.

Mauritania had benefited in July by inclusion in the list of 18 countries whose debt was forgiven by the Group of Eight at its meeting at Gleneagles, Scotland. Mauritania's external debt surpasses $2.5 billion.

The cancellation remains to be ratified at the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in September, and at this point it is unclear whether the Aug. 3 coup will affect that action.

The new Military Council for Justice and Democracy dissolved the Mauritanian parliament but stated its intention to maintain the country's constitutional council, the High Islamic Council, political parties, and local government councils for at least an initial two years until elections can be held. The military council announced Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall as the country's new leader.

The Mauritanian military had received U.S. training as part of the war against worldwide terrorism. In June, Mauritanian forces participated with more than 1,000 U.S. Special Forces in live-fire training exercises in the region.

Opposition to Mr. Taya, who had survived several coup attempts in 2003 and 2004, had focused on his ties with the United States and Israel, continued suppression of Mauritania's opposition parties, and purges of the country's military.

It isn't clear what bearing, if any, Mauritania's new status as an oil producer had on the coup, but an offshore field under the management of Australia's Woodside Petroleum, Ltd. will begin exporting 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day early next year. Mauritania's reserves are estimated at 100 million barrels.

Also uncertain is whether Mauritania's close relations with the United States, established under Mr. Taya's presidency, will survive the coup. That, of course, will depend largely on the new government.

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