(AFP) – Aug 14, 2008
NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) — Mauritania's junta brushed aside international condemnation on Thursday and named a new prime minister to head a transitional government ahead of promised elections.
Junta leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz tasked the ambassador to the European Union, Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf -- a longtime ally -- with forming a new government after consulting political parties, sources close to the country's military rulers told AFP.
Observers say the ambassador, given his European diplomatic contacts, may have been appointed in a bid to stave off an international backlash over the coup.
After ousting Mauritania's first democratically elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in a coup on August 6, Ould Abdel Aziz formed the State Council comprised of 11 military officials to the government and promised to hold elections quickly.
The general began consulting political parties about the formation of a transitional government earlier this week.
Ould Mohamed Laghdaf trained as an engineer and his close association with the general meant his name had been widely circulated as a possible candidate for prime minister.
He is a member of the influential Tajakant tribe and hails from the southwestern region of Hodh Chargui, which is considered key electorally.
But ousted prime minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf on Thursday said the nomination was illegal and stressed he would not hand over power.
"The only legitimate government in this country is the one named by the legitimate president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi", he told a news conference, saying that anybody else name is "for us illegal."
The international community has unanimously condemned the coup and on Wednesday the European Union warned that Mauritania faced isolation.
The EU's French presidency said the bloc wanted a return to the pre-coup situation and the old government restored.
In Nouakchott, the coup leaders insist that their action is supported by the country's 3.1 million population.
On Wednesday a large majority of Mauritanian lawmakers from both the senate and the lower house -- 106 out of 151 -- declared their support for the coup which they said was carried out "in the interest of the Mauritanian people".
A statement said the coup had been carried out "in the context of an acute political and institutional crisis" brought about by President Ould Cheikh Abdallahi who "only listened to sycophants".
The lawmakers called on the international community to support the coup leaders "in their objectives to preserve the stability of the country".
Mauritania, a vast desert country which imports over 70 percent of its food needs, has been hard hit by the global food crisis.
In November last year, the northwestern African country faced food riots and the UN World Food Programme warned in March that the country faced a year of record hunger.
The country has also faced three deadly attacks from extremists linked to Al-Qaeda which left seven people dead, including four French tourists.
The attacks dealt a severe blow to tourism and caused the organisers of the 2008 Dakar rally to move the famous race, which usually crosses the Mauritanian deserts, to South America.
The coup followed months of political tension and two recent government reshuffles.
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