Mauritania. According to countryaah, the military junta, which took power in Mauritania through a coup on August 6, 2008, promised in January 2009 that elections would be held June 6 of that year. The coup had put an end to a burgeoning democracy that held its first democratic election as late as March 2007. The coup led to the overthrow of President-elect Sidi Ould Sheikh Abdellahi, but he was released in December 2008.
In February 2009, the African Union (AU), which excluded the country after the coup, imposed sanctions on the country. The members of the military junta were banned from travel and were denied visas to the countries of the Union. AU also froze their bank accounts. Previously, for example, the US and the World Bank had stopped parts of their assistance to Mauritania. The United States had also introduced an entry ban for some of the junta members. In March, Mauritania cut off relations with Israel, which closed its embassy in Nouakchott. The country was previously one of the few Arab countries to have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Despite the election promise, a political crisis prevailed during the spring. The opposition parties threatened to boycott the elections because they felt they would not have enough time to prepare. After negotiations with international mediators, the military regime and the opposition agreed that the elections should be postponed until July and that a unity government be formed. The military junta announced that the election would be held July 18 with a possible second round on August 1. After that promise, the AU again welcomed Mauritania into the organization and lifted its sanctions on the country.
Nine candidates stood in the election, among them the three major opposition leaders. General and Cup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz won 52 percent of the vote and thus no other round of voting was needed. It informed the Home Minister when only two-thirds of the votes were counted. Two came the Speaker of Parliament and the leader of the Left Alliance populaire progressiste (APP), Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, with 16 percent of the vote. According to the Election Commission, turnout was 61 percent. The opposition immediately accused the military regime of electoral fraud and demanded an international review. The chairman of the electoral commission chose to resign himself when he questioned whether the election had gone right. The Mauritanian Supreme Court approved the election results and observers from the AU were pleased with how the election had been conducted, but felt that the opposition’s protests should be investigated. General Abdel Aziz denied electoral fraud and called on the opposition to come up with evidence.
On August 11, Abdel Aziz formed a new government. He promised to address terrorism and its causes, as well as to fight poverty and the low level of education in the country.
A North African Islamist al-Qaeda group is suspected of operating in Mauritania and is believed to be behind several assaults, including the murders of four French tourists in December 2007 that led to the Paris-Dakar rally being set in 2008. In June 2009, an American aid worker was killed. In August, a suicide bomber attacked the Embassy of France. The suicide bomber died and two guards were lightly injured. The al-Qaeda group assumed responsibility for the aid worker’s death. The group was also suspected of the embassy attack, but did not assume responsibility for it.
In August, the American volunteer organization American Peace Corps left Mauritania for security reasons. The organization had worked in the country for over 40 years and had just over 100 relief workers on site. On November 29, three Spanish aid workers were kidnapped by a group that, according to the Interior Minister, is linked to al-Qaeda. A few days later, the president dismissed the chief of the national police, who was responsible for security on the road where the Spanish were captured.