In one of its first statements since President Barack Obama took office, the US State Department Jan. 23 called for “the immediate return to constitutional order” in Mauritania, and protested “[t]he junta’s announced plans to organize unconstitutional elections” and “its attempts to silence” ousted President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and his supporters. “We call on the military junta to permit President Abdallahi’s full participation in the political process, to assure his freedom of movement and association, and to assure his personal safety,” the statement said. (State Department press release, Jan. 23)
The statement comes a day after security forces prevented Abdallahi from entering the capital, Nouakchott, with his motorcade. Abdallahi, who was removed by a military coup in August, was travelling to the capital to deliver a speech with proposals to end Mauritania political impasse. (AFP, Jan. 22) Abdallahi was only freed from house arrest in late December. (BBC News, Dec. 21)
Nouakchott has seen some protests against the regime in recent weeks. On Jan. 13, Sidi Mohamed Ould Abderrahmane, a journalist with the independent news wire service Agence Nouakchott d’Information, was detained by police while covering a demonstration at the presidential palace staged by family members of detainees who have been held for several months for allegedly engaging in acts of terrorism. The protestors were demanding the release of their detained relatives. (International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House via AllAfrica, Jan. 15)
Hundreds also marched in Nouakchott against the Israeli aggression in Gaza. (Afrique en Ligne, Dec. 28) This presented the regime with the opportunity to win popular support by breaking relations with Israel.
Isolated from the US since the coup, Mauritania appears to be tilting to China. Under a deal signed last week, China will invest $282 million to expand Nouakchott port facilities. The African Union said it would make good on its threat to impose sanctions if “constitutional order” is not restored by February. (Middle East Online, Jan. 13)
See our last posts on Mauritania, China in Africa, and the struggle in the Sahel.