NOUAKCHOTT, Asharq Al-Awsat and Agencies – The deposed president of Mauritania was set free Sunday after four and a half months under house arrest and immediately began working to retake power from the junta that overthrew him, a spokesman said.
Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was meeting in his home village with staff and supporters and plans to “fight for his legitimate power to be restored,” said Kaber Ould Hamoudi, the president’s chief of staff.
The daughter of the deposed leader, Amal Mint Cheikh Abdallahi revealed that the transfer of her father at dawn on Sunday from the village of Lemden to his residence in the capital of Nouakchott was supervised by two members of the military junta, Colonel Mohamed Ould Meguedt and Colonel Mohamed Ould Al Adi. Abdallahi however quickly returned to his home town of Lemden accompanied by former Secretary General Bigel Ould Hamid.
A member of the Abdallahi family confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that cars carrying soldiers arrived at the family home in Lemden at approximately 1am while the deposed president was asleep. They demanded that his daughter Amal wake him, and made threats as to the consequences if their demands were not met. Abdallahi was woken up and taken in a convoy of four vehicles to his residence in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott, under what was described as a light security presence.
A leader in the National Front for the Defense of Democracy [FNDD], which is a coalition of political parties who oppose the 6 August coup, said that by transferring Abdallahi to the capital, the military leaders of the junta were attempting to prevent any rallies and marches “celebrating his return to political life”.
The source within the Abdallahi family confirmed that the ousted president will practice his “constitutional powers as the legitimate and elected president,” and had decided to return to the “former exile” [in Lemden] willingly and “he has been completely free until now,” without revealing the reason for his return [to Lemden]. However observers believe that the reason [for Abdallahi’s return] is to organize celebratory marches along the route between Lemden and Nouakchott.
The anti-junta coalition [the FNDD] released a statement Sunday saying that the original transfer of Abdallahi from the capital Nouakchott to Lemden where he was under house arrest was an attempt to “remove him from the scene and ensure his complete absence, which proved to be counterproductive and disappointing to the hopes of the military junta.”
The statement also included a note to Abdallahi’s supporters thanking them for their enthusiasm, unity, and harmony in transforming the Lemden village into a “meeting-place for all those who were opposed to the coup against legitimacy, and constitutionality, and a meeting-place for the various diplomatic missions of the countries of the world.”
The FNDD also accused Colonel Ahmedou Bamba Ould Baya, the permanent secretary of the ruling junta of inviting the population of some internal Mauritanian states to “protest against the release of the president.”
Mauritania has had numerous coups since independence from France in 1960. It appeared the country had turned a corner last year when a different military junta organized elections deemed free and fair. But less than 1½ years after taking office, Abdallahi had a falling out with the country’s top generals, firing several of them.
Hours later, the same generals announced a coup, taking Abdallahi into custody and imprisoning his wife and children in the presidential palace.