(AFP) – Sep 1, 2008
NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) — The Mauritanian junta which seized power in a coup last month named a new cabinet Monday without fixing a term for what had been promised as a transitional government, immediately condemned by France as illegitimate.
A statement issued by the presidency of the state council early Monday said a 22-minister government headed by the former ambassador to the European Union, Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, had been formed, with effect from Sunday.
The council statement made no mention of a term for the government, despite earlier promises by junta leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to hold elections quickly.
Former colonial power France had led international condemnation of the August 6 coup that overthrew president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the country's first democratically elected leader.
"We consider this decision, along with all the measures taken by the military officials who seized power, and in particular the deposition of the president of the republic, is completely lacking legitimacy," said French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.
Newly appointed foreign minister Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, an academic who previously taught at Harvard University, will have the difficult task of convincing the international community that the military junta has good intentions.
He will represent the junta in talks with the African Union, which said Saturday it had received a "commitment" from Ould Abdel Aziz to release the overthrown president.
Most of the newly appointed ministers were backers of the coup, whether affiliated with political parties or independents.
Local newspapers, the majority of which went to press before the announcement, were divided on the issue.
The director of the independent weekly Le Calame, Ahmed Ould Cheikh, said he was concerned the creation of a new government "could provoke the international community and unleash a spiral of international sanctions".
The World Bank in August already suspended 175 million dollars in aid to the poor and largely desertified northwest African nation in response to the coup.
The new ministers are mainly young technocrats previously unknown to the public, according to an editorial in the daily La Tribune, saying the selection was aimed at "a facelift to appeal to public opinion".
The new government included members of the Union of Democratic Forces (RFD), the second party in the national assembly. The party immediately issued a statement saying they should be considered as having "automatically resigned".
The RFD said in a statement last week it would not take part in the government as no guarantees had been given on the length of a transition period and the ineligibility of a member of the armed forces to stand as president.
The former president is under house arrest at a villa in Nouakchott, while ousted prime minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf was re-arrested August 22 and held under house arrest.
France called for the "immediate release" of the deposed president, and a "return to constitutional order" in Nouakchott, said Chevallier.
Ould Cheikh Abdallahi's 15 months in office coincided with a food crisis, rising security concerns and social unrest in Mauritania, an impoverished desert country of 3 million inhabitants whose main resources are fisheries and iron ore.
The UN Security Council on August 19 adopted a non-binding statement condemning the coup and demanding the president's immediate release and the immediate "restoration of the legitimate, constitutional, democratic institutions."
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