Playing down the coup
THE MAURITANIAN government on Tuesday played down the impact of an abortive coup that rocked the north-west African country for 36 hours over the weekend, and urged citizens to resume normal life.
Signs of the clashes between troops loyal to President Maaouiya Ould Taya and the mutineers appeared around the capital of Nouakchott. There were burnt-out tanks, walls pockmarked with bullet holes, and some areas, such as the immediate surroundings of the presidential palace, were cordoned off.
But life had resumed its usual pace a day after the government announced the coup bid had been crushed. Yet the rapid return to normalcy belied the severity of the crisis from which the pro-Western Islamic republic had just emerged.
Observers said the state media emphasised that the return to stability was complete and that Ould Taya was firmly in control. Presidential elections, in which Ould Taya has announced his intention of running, are scheduled in five-months time.
A government minister suggested that the revolt had been organised by Salah Ould Hnana, a former colonel sacked from the army.
At the end of the 1990s, Ould Taya set about strengthening ties with the United States, going even further down that road after the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Mauritania's establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999 also brought stern criticism from some Arab states and opponents to the move within the desert country.
Mauritania's government has moved against Islamist activists since the US-led Iraq war, initially to try to prevent any shows of support for Saddam Hussein.
Dozens of Islamist leaders were arrested last month for allegedly using mosques to recruit fighters. At least 32 were freed on Sunday when rebel soldiers released prisoners from two jails, opposition officials said.