Mauritania's ousted president has said he was taken aback by the coup that removed him from power on Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time from exile in nearby Niger.
In an interview broadcast on Radio France International on Friday, President Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya defended his record in office, saying the future for his oil-rich desert nation had looked "promising".
"I was greatly surprised by the coup d'etat that took place in Nouakchott while the country was in mourning, and even more surprised when I learned who the authors were," said Taya, who had travelled to Saudi Arabia on Monday for the funeral of King Fahd.
He was toppled on Wednesday by a 17-member junta led by Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, the 55-year-old national police chief who was considered one of Taya's close confidants for more than two decades.
"There was never a coup in Africa so foolish," Taya said. "As for my personal situation, I'm reminded of the wisdom of he who said: 'My God preserves me and my friends. My enemies, I'll take care of.'"
Iron fist rule
On Friday in Niger's capital, Niamey, Taya prayed at a large mosque with Niger's President Mamadou Tandja, who had welcomed him two days before, presidency officials in Niamey said.
Mohamed Haidallah, Taya's main
opponent, was detained in 2003
Taya's wife Aicha Mint Ahmed Tolba left Nouakchott by plane to meet her husband.
Taya said his government "had done much more than one could have reasonably expected".
"Prospects were promising economically, socially and culturally. The country was run smoothly as a pluralist democracy," he said.
Taya had ruled the Muslim nation with an iron fist since seizing power in 1984. In the 1990s, he tried to legitimise his rule through elections that the opposition says were rigged.
During his rule, Taya dealt ruthlessly with those who opposed him. Just one day after the last presidential ballot in 2003, Taya's security forces arrested the man who had been his main challenger in the vote, Mohamed Ould Khouna Haidalla. He was released a few days later.
In recent years, he survived three coup attempts, including one in 2003 marked by several days of fighting in the capital.
He responded by jailing scores of opponents, both politicians and soldiers, many of whom were put on trial last year in the largest mass court case in the nation's history.
Taya had allied his overwhelmingly Muslim nation with the United States in the "war on terror" and with Israel, drawing sharp criticism from Islamist opponents he branded terrorists plotting his overthrow.
Taya's alliance with Israel has
drawn sharp criticism
Mauritania opened full diplomatic relations with Israel six years ago, becoming one of three Arab League nations to do so.
On Friday, officials close to the military government, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said Vall, the country's new leader, met the Israeli ambassador in Nouakchott and assured him diplomatic relations between the two nations would not change.
The military leaders met with heads of political parties, civil society and trade unions.