(NSI News Source Info) 6 August, 2008: Nouakchott, Mauritania - Troops in Mauritania have overthrown the country's first freely-elected leader and say they have formed a state council to rule the country. President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was held after he tried to dismiss the military's top commanders. Troops are out on the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, where tear gas was fired at about 50 protesters. President Abdallahi came to power in free and fair polls last year, taking over from a military junta. Troops rounded up the president - along with his Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef - apparently without needing to use force on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the president tried to dismiss four senior army officers, including the head of the presidential guard, Gen Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who responded by launching the coup. The country has been in the grip of a political crisis since a vote of no confidence in the cabinet two weeks ago. They arrested [President Abdallahi] and took him to the battalion base. It's a textbook coup d'etat. On Monday, 48 MPs walked out of the ruling party. Reports suggest some of the generals orchestrated the mass resignation, our correspondent James Copnall says. Nouakchott airport has been closed, security sources told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. A journalist based in Nouakchott, Hamdi Ould Mohamed el-Hacen, told the BBC people had gathered on street corners to discuss the coup - in particular the fate of the president and prime minister. Culture Minister Abdellahi Salem Ould El-Mouallah read a statement on TV on behalf of the coup leaders announcing the presidential decree sacking the top army officers had been "annulled legally and practically". An army statement said the president was no longer in charge. The first indications of a military coup came as state radio and television were taken off the air amid reports of unusual troop movements in Nouakchott. The president's daughter, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi, said soldiers seized her father at his house at 0920 local time (0920 GMT). She raised the alarm in a phone call to a French radio station. "They came here to find him," she told Radio France International. "They arrested him here and took him to the battalion base. It's a textbook coup d'etat." Political instability The African Union condemned the coup, demanded a return to constitutional government and said it was sending an envoy to Nouakchott immediately. The governments of South Africa and Nigeria - both major players in the African Union - also criticised the military takeover. The US state department and the European Commission also decried the coup, with the commission warning it would suspend aid to Mauritania. Mauritania has a long history of coups, with the military involved in nearly every government since its independence from France in 1960. Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule - the product of a military coup in 2005. The elections were deemed to have been free and fair and appeared to herald a new era of democracy. Earlier this year, however, the president dismissed the government amid protests over soaring food prices. The cabinet that replaced it has been dogged by instability, lacking the support of a moderate Islamist party and a major opposition group that were in the former government. Mauritania is one of the world's poorest nations as well as its newest oil producer. The desert nation, a former French colony of more than three million people, has been looking to oil revenues to boost its economy.
Mauritantia's President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdellahi was deposed early Wednesday in what appears to be a bloodless military coup, local sources said. Cheikh Abdallahi, 70, was the first democratically-elected president of the country. According to Nouakchott Info, a local daily, there is relative calm in Nouakchott, the capital, although access to the presidential palace has been blocked by security forces. Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf is also said to have been arrested. Wednesday's coup came about 18 months after a presidential election in 2007, which was hailed as a democratic model for the continent and the Arab world, and three years after the military coup which overthrew then-president Maaouiya Ould Taya in August 2005. The country has experienced political instability over recent months, fueled in part by protests over rising food prices which led to a no-confidence vote in the government.