Nouakchott, Asharq Al-Awsat- Mauritanian National Assembly Speaker Messaoud Ould Belkheir has said that the Front for the Defense of Democracy opposed to the military junta still insists on taking to the streets to abort “the one-sided track”. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Belkheir said that Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi failed in the mediation efforts that he started a few weeks ago. Belkheir added that at the end of Qadhafi’s visit to Mauritania, he told him: “As far as we are concerned, Your Excellency, you are not suitable to act as mediators”. Messaoud Ould Belkheir was elected National Assembly speaker in May2007 with the unanimous support of the opposition and pro-government forces after Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was inaugurated as president of Mauritania after he won the presidential elections in March 2007. On March 112007, Belkheir won more than 10 percent of the votes in the [first round of the] presidential elections. During the second round, he backed ousted President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi and remained his ally. Belkheir’s party, The People’s Progressive Alliance, joined several governments under Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. At present, Belkheir is considered the most prominent leader opposed to the military junta that has been ruling Mauritania since 6 August 2008.
The text of the interview is as follows:
Q) Does the opposition still insist on taking to the streets if the presidential elections are held on the specified time of 6 June?
A) We still insist on taking to the streets although the interpretation given for us to take to the streets was not originally intended by us despite the fact that we are not trying to evade any interpretation. Taking to the streets by those that wish democratic practice is normal. Peaceful demonstrations and protests constitute a constitutional right and the coupists did not suspend the constitution. We cling to our rights that give us the right to peaceful protest, including taking to the streets and staging rallies and sit-ins. We will resort to all our legitimate rights. This is our understanding of taking to the streets and nothing will prevent us from doing so. Those that do not want us to take to the streets should respond to our call or accept dialogue with us.
Q) Is it true that you have agreed to meet in Dakaras part of the Senegalese initiative? What is the difference between the Libyan initiative and the Senegalese initiative? Are they part of the African initiative to resolve the Mauritanian crisis?
A) The fact is that there is a Senegalese initiative although Senegal was among the first countries that supported the coupists. President Abdullah Wade [of Senegal] was the first president to openly proclaim support for the militarists in Mauritania. The first visit made by their foreign minister was to sound out the political sides on a possible comprehensive dialogue among the various parties. We told the Senegalese: We should first verify your impartiality before the mediation efforts that you intend to exert in order to make sure that there is an honest broker. After the return of the Senegalese foreign minister, he told us I have come with an initiative that includes starting a semi-national dialogue by bringing together all the parties concerned. He did not specify the venue although I was made to understand that Senegalese President Abdullah Wade intended to visit Mauritania in the company of African Union Chief Commissioner John Bing. At the time, I expressed reservations on his visit to Mauritania lest it be interpreted as legitimizing of the coup. We refused to engage in a dialogue without clear conditions, especially by demonstrating the sincerity of the militarists in searching for a solution to emerge from the crisis and showing their good intentions toward us. This is represented in two points: First, suspending the one-side yardstick that includes holding the presidential elections and, second, releasing the political prisoners that we consider as opinion prisoners while the militarists call “the corrupters”. As for the Libyans, they did not adopt an initiative in the first place but adopted the agenda of the militarists that we, of course, rejected. During my meeting with leader Al-Qadhafi – after we walked out from the meeting that was held in the Palace of Conferences – the Libyans said that the fact that they did not bring an initiative to solve the crisis proves their impartiality. However, I told them you do not need an initiative since you had adopted the initiative of the militarists and so far, we have not seen anything that would drive us to engage in a dialogue.
Q) After the walkout of the leaders of the alliance opposed to the military junta from the meeting held by Libyan leader Al-Qadhafi, you met with him privately. There are conflicting reports about who apologized to whom. Did you apologize to Al-Qadhafi for withdrawing from the meeting or did he apologize for his support for the elections on 6 June?
A) All this took place. The fact is that it was Al-Qadhafi that asked to meet me and I did not object. When I went to see him I saw several of his aides. I entered along with my deputy Elkhalil Ould Eltayyeb[name as transliterated]. Al-Qadhafi was standing. He shook hands with me and said: “You invited me and I came to your home and then you walked out on me”. I replied out of courtesy: “I am sorry; I walked out on you and that was the last thing I wanted to do but you drove me to do it”. Al-Qadhafi began to deny that he is prejudiced in favor of any party against another in the crisis and said: “If I am prejudiced in favor of one side, that side is Mauritania. Everything I said was misunderstood”. However, his words were later rebutted by the facts. I told him to the letter: As far as we are concerned, Your Excellency, you are not suitable to act as mediators”. This is my personal stand on Al-Qadhafi’s mediation and it is the stand of the National Front For the Defense of Democracy. I finally advised the Libyan leader to meet with the leaders of the front in order to discuss the subject.
Q) Is it true that you refused to join the ruling State Supreme Council after the coup on 6 August after it was proposed to you by the militarists?
A) That is not true; I was not contacted in this regard. I was informed about it by ordinary people on my way to Nouakchott coming from a remote region. After I arrived and while I was in my office in the National Assembly on Thursday, Mohamed Ould al-Tajani asked to see me as the envoy of General Mohamed Ould Abdulaziz. During the meeting, he tried to find out my true position on the coup and I told him before he left. He then told me that the general wishes to see me and gave me an appointment with General Abdulaziz in the presidential palace on Saturday morning. During the meeting and after listening to his justifications that drove him to stage the coup, I said: I have kept my stand to myself until I meet you. I reject what you did and I advise you to withdraw while giving you all the guarantees you want. If you insist on proceeding with the coup you have to suspend the constitution, dissolve the National Assembly, and ban partisan action. I absolutely reject mixing civilian rule with military rule and will not join it. I will inform the National Assembly of my stand and then I will proclaim it openly to the media, which I did.