Mauritania cracks down on opposition after election

Mohamed Ould Boubacar (left) and Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid. (Sia Kambou/AFP)

Mohamed Ould Boubacar (left) and Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid. (Sia Kambou/AFP)

Mauritanian police raided the headquarters of two opposition parties, closing one of them amid high tension that followed a disputed outcome to presidential elections.

The operation happened late on Monday after police clashed with opposition supporters angered by the declared victory of ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. A former general and ally of outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Ghazouani was credited with 52% of the ballot, averting the need for a runoff vote.

“Police arrived at the headquarters of candidate Biram [Ould Dah Ould Abeid] and tossed teargas grenades inside, smashing windows and doors, making the place unusable,” Abeid’s spokesperson, Hammada Ould Lehbouss, said on Tuesday.

Abeid, an anti-slavery activist who received the United Nations’ Human Rights prize in 2013, has repeatedly been imprisoned over the years.

Police also raided the headquarters of opposition candidate Kane Hamidou Baba, four opposition candidates said at a press conference on Monday. His premises were closed by the authorities.

The two buildings, located close to each other in the capital Nouakchott, were deserted on Tuesday and rocks used to form roadblocks and burned tyres were scattered outside.

The government refused to comment.

The vote on Saturday had been touted as a historic moment in the conservative Saharan desert nation, marking its first democratic transition after decades of coups.

Ghazouani beat Abeid, credited with 18.58% of the vote, according to the country’s electoral commission.
He was followed by Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, a former prime minister, with 17.87%. Kane polled 8.71%, while Mohamed Ould Moloud got 2.44%.

The defeated candidates say the vote count was flawed and are calling for a breakdown of the tally by individual polling stations, to see how it matches their own data. But they have said that their bid to overturn the result will be peaceful and legal.

Abdel Aziz is a general who first came to power in a 2008 coup. He won elections a year later and was again elected in 2014 in polls boycotted by the opposition. Ghazouani, who campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security, served as the outgoing president’s chief of staff from 2008 to last year.

Rights groups have accused the government of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, and have called for more to be done to counter violence against women and slavery, which persists despite its official abolition in 1981. — AFP

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