Mauritanian junta names new prime minister

Mauritania’s self-declared head of state named a new prime minister to replace the former premier who resigned along with his Cabinet after last week’s coup. A judge freed 21 people who had been detained for plotting against the ousted regime.

Junta leader Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall named Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar as prime minister, the government said in a statement on Sunday.

The 49-year-old Boubacar returned to Mauritania on Saturday from France, where he had been serving as ambassador since 2004.

The appointment followed the resignation earlier on Sunday of former Prime Minister Sghair Ould M’Bareck and his Cabinet.

M’Bareck presented the resignations to Vall at the presidential palace. The two met for about 15 minutes, and M’Bareck did not elaborate when he spoke briefly to reporters who witnessed the event.

Cabinet ministers had not shown up for work since Wednesday’s surprise coup toppled longtime President Maaoya Sid’Ahmed Ould Taya, who is currently in exile in nearby Niger.

Boubacar served as prime minister from 1992-1996 and also headed Taya’s former ruling party until being posted to Paris as ambassador.

On Saturday, Vall met with the heads of more than 30 political parties in the capital and pledged that elections would take place in less than two years.
He also assured politicians that no member of his 17-man junta would stand in the vote, said Ahmed Ould Daddah, a top politician who heads the opposition Rally of Democratic Forces.

The coup has been welcomed by many in Mauritania who had grown weary of Taya’s harsh rule. Taya had stringently controlled the Islamic country since taking power in a coup himself in 1984.

The United Nations and European Union denounced the coup and Washington called for Taya to be restored to power. The African Union also condemned the military takeover, suspending Mauritania from the 53-nation body.

On Sunday, a judge freed 21 people jailed since April 25 on charges of plotting against the state, said Captain Ahmed Ould Abeid, head of the central prison in the capital. The group has yet to be acquitted of charges.

They included Mohamed Hassan Ould Dedew, the spiritual leader of many Mauritanians the government brands as Islamic radicals, and Moktar Ould Mohamed Moussa, an Islamic leader who previously served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

At least 50 other people remain in prison on similar charges.

Taya jailed scores of opponents during his rule, including politicians, soldiers and Islamists he portrayed as terrorists plotting his overthrow. His main challenger in presidential elections two years ago, Mohamed Ould Khouna Haidalla, was also

detained for several days just after the 2003 poll.

Taya had allied his overwhelmingly Muslim nation with the United States in the war on terror and with Israel, drawing sharp criticism from Islamist opponents.

Mauritania opened full diplomatic relations with Israel six years ago, becoming one of only three Arab League nations to do so.

Taya’s harsh crackdown on opponents is believed to have contributed to bringing on the coup, but a power struggle over recently discovered offshore oil reserves may also have played a role, analysts say.

The country is expected to begin producing crude for the first time in early 2006. Initial output is expected to total about 75 000 barrels a day, significant for impoverished Mauritania but relatively insignificant compared to regional powerhouse Nigeria, which produces about 2,5-million barrels a day. - Sapa-AP