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Army officers staged a coup in Mauritania on Wednesday and detained the president and prime minister, overthrowing the first government to be freely elected in the desert country in more than 20 years.
The coup in Africa's newest oil producer took place after the president and prime minister fired the country's top four military officials.
A brief announcement read over state television said the new "state council" will be led by presidential guard chief Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who also helped lead a 2005 coup. It gave no other details.
President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was being held by renegade soldiers at the presidential palace in Nouakchott, according to presidential spokesman Abdoulaye Mamadouba. Soldiers also detained Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waqef, he said.
State radio and television went off air and witnesses said soldiers were deployed throughout the capital. No violence was immediately reported.
Abdallahi, a devout Muslim, also came under criticism when he used public funds to build a mosque on the grounds of the presidential palace.
The country's latest political crisis began in May after Abdallahi appointed 12 ministers, some accused of corruption and all of whom had held prominent posts in the government of former President Maaouya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya, who was ousted in the 2005 coup.
In June, lawmakers introduced a no confidence vote against the president and called for his resignation. Abdallahi angered the opposition by refusing to hold a special parliamentary session called to create an investigative commission. One of the commission's tasks was to investigate allegations of corruption and illegal use of public funds by the president's wife.
The final straw came early Wednesday when Abdallahi fired several generals, including Aziz, whom he accused of supporting the rebellious parliamentarians.
U.S. suspends aid to Mauritania after coup
Thu 7 Aug 2008, 16:26 GMT
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WASHINGTON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it had suspended more than $20 million in non-humanitarian aid to Mauritania after a military coup and called for the immediate return to civilian rule.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the military's overthrow of the democratically elected government in Mauritania and at present, all non-humanitarian foreign assistance is suspended and under review," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters.
Police fired tear gas at a small crowd who protested against the coup, but hundreds more took to the streets of Nouakchott in support of presidential guard chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who launched the coup after Abdallahi sacked him.
Overseen by armed soldiers, crowds chanted "Long live the General!" and hooted car horns before retreating from the heat.
POLLS "AS SOON AS POSSIBLE"
Abdel Aziz has set up a "High State Council" of military officers promising to work with civilian leaders to organise a presidential election "in as short a time as possible".
The council also vowed to respect treaties binding Mauritania, which spans Arab and black Africa at the edge of the Sahara and has close ties with many Arab states. It is one of the few Arab countries to have diplomatic ties with Israel.
"I vow to respect democracy, guarantee justice for everybody and resolve problems across the country," Abdel Aziz told supporters in his first public appearance since the coup.