Mauritania replaces oil and foreign ministers in reshuffle

NOUAKCHOTT, Sept 18 Wed Sep 18, 2013 10:09am EDT

NOUAKCHOTT, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz replaced the ministers of the interior, foreign affairs, and mines and oil in a cabinet overhaul late on Tuesday.

Abdel Aziz, an ally of the West in the fight against al Qaeda in West Africa, retained Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdhaf in the shake-up that saw a total of 12 ministries affected by changes.

The presidential decree announcing the reshuffle, which was read on state television, did not give a reason for the move.

All main cabinet positions went to close allies of the president, signalling a possible rolling back of overtures made to the opposition ahead of legislative elections due to be held in November.

Mohamed Ould Ahmed Salem Ould Mohamed Rare, former governor of Trarza province was named interior minister. He replaced Mohamed Ould Boilil, a veteran politician who is expected to run for a seat in a southern constituency along the border with Senegal that many believe could fall to the opposition.

Ahmed Ould Teguedi, until now the country's ambassador to the United Nations, was appointed as foreign minister, taking over from Hamady Ould Baba Ould Hamady who will now serve as minister of fishing.

Mohamed Ould Khouna, previously delegate minister for new technologies, was appointed minister of petroleum, energy and mines, while Sidi Ould Zein - a former adviser to the prime minister - was named justice minister.

Straddling black and Arab Africa on the continent's west coast, Mauritania, a country of 3.2 million people, is an iron ore, copper and gold producer with a budding off-shore oil and gas sector.

The country has launched at least two air strikes on Islamist camps in neighbouring Mali since 2010. The al Qaeda-linked fighters seized the northern two-thirds of Mali last year, forcing a French-led military intervention earlier this year to drive them out. (Reporting by Laurent Prieur; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)