(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Three opposition leaders arrested in connection with coup plots

Three leading opposition figures in Mauritania were arrested on Wednesday and charged with scheming to overthrow President Maaouiya Ould Taya, lawyers for the politicians have said.

The three, who include former president Mohamed Kouna Ould Haidallah, were later placed under house arrest.

Mauritania’s authorities said they had dismantled two coup attempts in August and September of this year. They claimed they had been masterminded by renegade soldiers who staged an unsuccessful attempt to topple Ould Taya in June 2003.

Ould Haidallah, the most high profile of Wednesday's three detainees, served as Mauritania's head of state from 1980 until 1984, when Ould Taya seized power. He was also the main challenger to the head of state in a presidential election held in November 2003.

Lawyer Ibrahim Ebety said his client had been accused of giving financial support to the coup plotters, but he denied that charge.

It is not the first time Ould Haidallah has been arrested in connection with putsch attempts. Immediately after last year’s election, authorities charged him with plotting a coup and after a brief trial, a court handed him a five-year suspended sentence and deprived him of his political rights for five years.

Another of the men arrested on Wednesday was Cheikh Ould Horma, an Ould Haidallah supporter who tried to found a new pro-Islamic opposition group, the Party for Democratic Convergence, earlier this year, but was blocked by the government.

The third detainee, Ahmed Ould Daddah, is another former presidential candidate and the half-brother of Mauritania's first president after independence from France in 1960. Both deny the charges.

President Ould Taya, a former army colonel, is hoping to lead his poor nation into a minor oil boom through the commercial development of offshore oilfields.

But he has angered many of Mauritania's 2.8 million people, who are staunch Muslims, by establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, looking increasingly towards the United States and cracking down repeatedly on Islamic fundamentalists groups in the country.

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