Mauritania's ousted president says "stunned" by coup

NIAMEY, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Mauritania's ousted President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya said on Friday he was stunned by the military coup that ousted him from power this week and especially by the fact some of his closest aides were behind it.
"My situation reminds me of the old adage: 'God, save me from my friends, I'll take care of my enemies'," Taya told Radio France Internationale in Niger's capital Niamey, where he landed on Wednesday hours after a group of army officers toppled him.

"I was stunned by the coup d'etat ... and even more so when I heard who were the authors," he said.

Taya, who survived a string of coup attempts during his 21-year rule, was ousted by a group of army officers while he was out of the country.

The officers said a military junta headed by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall would rule for up to two years, saying Taya ruled over a "totalitarian" regime.

Vall had long been seen as a close ally of the president, having participated in the 1984 coup that brought Taya to power and served as his security chief for nearly 20 years.

Among the putschists was also the head of Taya's guard, showing that unlike previous attempts to oust him, Wednesday's bloodless coup came from the president's own inner circle.

Taya had angered many Arabs in his homeland, which straddles black and Arab Africa, by establishing diplomatic ties with Israel and becoming a staunch U.S. ally in West Africa.

He also turned Mauritania into one of the most repressive nations in the region towards Islamist movements, especially after narrowly surviving an attempted coup in 2003. Scores of Islamic politicians and activists have been arrested since.

On Friday, he defended his record.

"I have given much more than could be reasonably expected. The political, economic, social and cultural prospects were promising. The country had a pluralist, peaceful democracy," he said. "There has never been a more senseless coup in Africa".

The United Nations, former colonial power France and the United States have all condemned the coup and the African Union has suspended Mauritania, demanding Taya be restored to power.

But in the sand-blanketed capital Nouakchott, people took to the streets on Wednesday and Thursday, singing and honking their car horns in celebration.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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