August 19, 2008 / 9:25 PM / 12 years ago

UN condemns, ambassador defends Mauritania coup

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned the overthrow of Mauritania’s democratically elected president but the country’s ambassador said the public supported the military action.

Soldiers seized President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi at his palace on Aug. 6 after he sacked senior army officers during a political crisis.

The northwest African Islamic state straddles black and Arab Africa and is one of the continent’s newest oil producers.

"The Security Council demands the immediate release of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and the restoration of the legitimate, constitutional, democratic institutions immediately," the statement read.

Abdallahi won Mauritania’s first free, fair elections since independence in 1960 last year, taking over from a military government which ousted President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya in a bloodless 2005 coup.

In addition the Security Council condemned the actions of the State Council, "in particular its move to seize the powers of the presidency."

In response to the council’s statement, Mauritanian Ambassador Abderrahim Ould Hadrami struck a defiant note, arguing Abdallahi "became the hostage of a political entourage that diverted him from his supreme mission."

The "corrective change" of Aug. 6 was broadly supported by Mauritania’s parliament, mayors and people, Hadrami said.

The coup has been condemned by the African Union, European Union, United States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Mauritania is a largely desert country of 3 million people twice the size of former colonial ruler France and is rich in iron ore, copper and gold.

The action "cannot be described as a coup d’etat since all the institutions of the republic are working normally and basic freedoms are preserved," Hadrami said, adding the country "has not turned its back on democracy."

Hadrami called on the Security Council to acquaint itself better with the situation in Mauritania to understand why the "corrective change" had taken place. (Reporting by Daniel Bases, editing by Jackie Frank)

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