Taya came to power after deposing Muhammad Khouna Ould Haidallah in a coup in 1984.
He survived two coup attempts himself, first in June 2003 and the second on the eve of a planned trip to France in August 2004.
Politics and power
Born in Atar, Mauritania in 1941, Taya served as prime minister from 1981 to 1984 and as head of the national army in 1984.
Taya has dominated Mauritanian politics since the country held its first multi-party elections in April 1992, following the approval by referendum of the current constitution in July 1991.
In 1991, Taya legalised political parties, banned till then by the country's military rulers.
And on 17 January 1992, he ordered the first pluralist elections in the country and won in the first round with a score of 62.65%.
The opposition refused to recognise the results, claiming large-scale fraud.
By April 1992, when civilian rule returned, 15 major political parties had been recognised; 11 of them survived by 2003. On 7 November 2003, new elections were held, and Taya won with 66.69% of votes.
The opposition again denounced the result as fraudulent.
After graduating from the high school of Rosso in southern Mauritania, he attended the French Military School in 1960 and graduated as an officer.
In 1963, he joined the Military High Academy, and in 1975 went to the French War Academy for strategic training.
After 1978, Taya was in charge of the Defence Ministry and was chief of police in 1980. He became chief of army staff in January 1981 and served as prime minister from April 1981 to March 1984.
He was designated again as head of the national army in 1984 and a few months later, president of the Military National Salvation Army until his election as head of state.
Taya has been working on strengthening friendly relations with neighbouring countries, fighting radicalism and poverty and spreading education among the population.
Although Taya has been running a tightly controlled government, a series of national and municipal elections since 1992 have produced some limited decentralisation in Mauritania.
Amnesty International and other rights groups has charged that slavery persists in Mauritania, two decades after it was officially abolished.
Under Taya's presidency, Mauritania became the third Arab country (after Egypt and Jordan) to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in October 1999.
Important years in Taya's life
1981: Became chief of army staff
April 1981 to March 1984: Served as prime minister
1984: Displaced military strongman Muhammad Khouna Ould Haidallah.
1991: Initiated a gradual return to democracy.
1992: Elected president in what the opposition parties charged were fraudulent elections.
Sources: Encyclopedia.com, BBC News, Encyclopedia of the Orient, Wikipedia, World Almanac 2004