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African Union lifts sanctions on Mauritania

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The African Union has dropped sanctions on Mauritania and lifted a suspension from the body because of steps it is taking to restore democracy this month, the Union said in a statement on Wednesday.

The African Union suspended Mauritania after the army overthrew the elected president in August last year and froze assets and imposed visa and travel bans on members of the junta and its supporters.

But an election is due on July 18 under a transition administration agreed on by the junta and the civilian opposition in the iron ore-producing northwest African country of 3 million.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council said the decision to lift the measures against Mauritania was taken at a meeting on Monday.

“(The Council) looks forward to the presidential election ... and requests that all efforts be deployed for the election to take place in the required conditions of transparency, fairness and freedom,” it said.

It said it would keep watching the situation in Mauritania to make sure it stayed on track and in case other measures needed to be taken, potentially including the re-imposition of sanctions.

Under an agreement that took effect last month, a transition government was set up to allow a presidential election on July 18 in which junta leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and the opposition will take part.

Mauritania’s neighbors were concerned the military takeover could set a precedent in a region that had begun to shed its reputation for coups.

AU sanctions imposed in February this year included travel restrictions and the freezing of assets belonging to individuals whose activities maintained what it called the “unconstitutional status quo”.

The European Union has suspended non-humanitarian aid.

The African Union also imposed sanctions on Guinea after the military took over following the death of the veteran president last December. African countries are concerned Guinea’s junta may not keep plans to hold free elections this year.