NOUAKCHOTT, 9 June (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of people have taken to the dusty streets of the capital Nouakchott at the behest of the ruling party, with more marches planned across Mauritania to protest a fatal attack on a remote desert military base by an Algerian Islamist group.
According to police, more than 40,000 people braved the afternoon desert heat on Wednesday. President Maaouiya Ould Taya's Social Democratic Republican party (PRDS), which organised the event, pitched the figure closer to 60,000.
Even the opposition, known collectively as 'The Cavaliers for Change' and usually at loggerheads with the government, have echoed the Ould Taya's condemnation of the attack.
Men in floor-skimming robes and women in brightly coloured traditional dress waved placards in the protests that take place as the US this week launches a multi-million dollar anti-terrorist training programme in five West African countries, including Mauritania.
US officials speaking from Washington this week, said the weekend attack in remote northeast Mauritania, illustrated the need for the project which will cover 10 countries in total and cost US tax payers half a billion dollars over five years.
An Algerian group known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), claimed responsibility for the last Saturday on a Mauritanian military barracks in which at least 15 soldiers were killed, some with their throats slit.
The US has linked the GSPC with Al-Qaeda who claimed responsibility for the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
They said they carried out the attack "in revenge for the violence carried out against our brothers in prison".
Since mid-March, Ould Taya has carried out a series of arrests against people described as Islamic militants.
However, local religious leaders and the Brussels-based think-tank, the International Crisis Group, say Ould Taya is using Western fears of Islamic fundamentalism and global terrorism as a pretext to muzzle his political opponents.
In a seemingly unrelated move, the government allowed thirty-some Islamist detainees access to their lawyers on Wednesday for the first time in two months.
According to the presiding Judge, Sall Amadou, they will be allowed to see their families next Monday.
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