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Former Mauritania president slams ‘constitutional coup’

Current president plans to hold referendum on proposed constitutional changes already rejected by country's senate

Former Mauritania president slams ‘constitutional coup’

By Mohamed al-Bakay

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania

Former Mauritanian President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi has called on citizens to resist what he described as a “constitutional coup” being prepared by current President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Ould Cheikh Abdallahi made the assertion in reference to Ould Abdel Aziz’s insistence on holding a popular referendum on constitutional changes that were already rejected by the country’s senate.

In a Monday statement, the former president said that -- ever since his ouster in a 2008 military coup -- he had refrained from issuing political statements and had “simply observed political developments from the sidelines”.

However, he added, the current president’s decision to go through with the referendum -- despite the objections of the Mauritanian senate -- had moved him to break his silence.

"The future of democracy in the country is at stake,” he asserted.

“I urge the president to retract his decision [to hold the referendum], which effectively ignores the earlier vote by the senate,” he added.

Last week, President Ould Abdel Aziz reiterated his intention to hold the referendum, for which a date has yet to be set.

The constitutional changes that will be put to a popular vote, however, were already rejected by the Mauritanian senate in a vote held earlier this month.

Most Mauritanian opposition parties reject the proposed amendments, which they believe would -- if enacted -- only cement the current government’s grip on power.

“If the president insists on violating the constitution, I believe it is incumbent on all patriots who care about their country's future… to do everything in their power to resist this constitutional coup,” Ould Cheikh Abdallahi warned in the statement.

Ould Cheikh Abdallahi came to power after winning 2007 presidential polls. Regarded as the country’s first civilian president, he was ousted by a military coup -- spearheaded by Ould Abdel Aziz -- one year later.

After the coup, he withdrew from public life and retired to a small village south of capital Nouakchott. Until he released his Monday statement, he had refrained from issuing any public remarks.

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