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AU to suspend Mauritania

DODOMA, August 9 – The African Union will suspend Mauritania from the bloc following this week’s coup in the west African nation, AU president Tanzania said Saturday.

"The AU will suspend Mauritania’s membership until the country returns to constitutional government," said Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe, whose country holds the pan-African bloc’s rotating presidency.

On Wednesday the former head of Mauritania’s presidential guard, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, led a coup against Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, after the president tried to make changes in the military leadership.

The coup had been widely condemned by the international community even though the new military junta promised to quickly hold "fair and transparent" elections.

"The coup is a serious setback for Mauritanians because it has robbed the people of their basic right to freely elect leaders of their own choice," said Membe, who is also the chairman of the AU’s council of ministers.

Friday saw hundreds of people turn out for an anti-coup rally on the streets of the capital Nouakchott, as mediators from the AU and the Arab League scrambled to avoid a prolonged crisis in the nation of 3.1 million people.

Abdallahi became Mauritania’s first democratically elected president last year after a period of transition supervised by a military council that deposed the previous president in a bloodless coup in August 2005.

On Thursday, the AU condemned the coup and called for a "return to constitutional order and the re-establishment without delay of the institutions that the Mauritanian people have democratically chosen."

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The AU statement added that suspension of Mauritania would be in line with the provisions of the body’s constitution under which suspension is automatic until the restoration of "constitutional order."

The largely desert country has a history of coups since its independence from France in 1960.

Mauritania was shaken between December 2007 and February 2008 by three attacks from extremists linked to Al-Qaeda, which left seven people dead including four French tourists.

The attacks caused the organisers of the 2008 Dakar rally to cancel the race, which usually crosses the Mauritanian deserts.

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