Mauritania coup leader pleads guilty

The ringleader of a string of purported plots to overthrow the Mauritanian government has pleaded guilty to mounting an attempt to oust President Muawiya Walad Taya.

    President Wald Taya came to power in a 1984 military coup

    "I wanted to change a rotten and illegal regime by way of a coup

    d'etat, similar to that launched on 12 December 1984 by Walad Taya,"

    Major Salih Walad Hananna said in testimony

    in Wad Naga, 50km

    east of the capital Nouakchott.

    Hananna denied charges that he had taken arms

    against his country and of having led a seditious movement.

    Hearings at what is likely to be the largest-ever trial in the

    massive northwest African country resumed on Tuesday after being

    suspended for technical and practical reasons for eight days by

    presiding justice Muhammad al-Hadi Walad Muhammad.

    A mixed civilian and military jury is hearing the charges of

    armed attempts to destroy and change the constitutional regime

    levelled against 191 suspects, among them former president Muhammad

    Khuna Walad Haid Allah and prominent opposition leaders Ahmad Walad

    Dadda and Shaikh Walad Hurma.

    Hananna, who along with several other defendants went on a hunger

    strike in November to demand better treatment in prison, was the

    first of 132 suspects to appear in court to plead guilty to the

    charges, which carry the death penalty.

    Plots foiled

    The plots began with an army uprising in June 2003, which was

    put down by loyalist troops after a 36-hour battle in



    "We received material support from numerous Mauritanian citizens

    - students, civil servants and others who back and find hope in our


    Major Salih Walad Hananna

    The authorities said they also foiled plots in August and

    September of this year, including one that threatened a wide-scale

    massacre and anarchy once the insurgents seized the capital.

    Hananna told the court on Tuesday that the plots were legitimised

    by the "disastrous economic, social and political situation" in the

    country of 2.7 million, among the world's poorest.

    Mauritania also bore the brunt of this year's invasion by swarms

    of desert locusts, the worst in more than a decade.

    The government has accused Libya and Burkina Faso of instigating

    the coup plots, pointing to seized weapons, vehicles and other

    equipment that are clearly identifiable as having come from Libya.

    Hananna denied having received financial assistance from Tripoli

    and Ouagadougou but said he had travelled several times with a false

    passport to both Burkina Faso and eastern neighbour Mali.

    Opponents banished

    "We received material support from numerous Mauritanian citizens

    - students, civil servants and others who back and find hope in our

    efforts," he told the court.


    Mauritania has pursued a pro-
    West policy under Walad Taya

    Mauritania established relations with Israel in 1999, one of

    only three Arab League countries to have done so.

    Walad Taya has also moved to strengthen ties with the United

    States, offering Mauritania as a base for a major

    military programme known as the Pan-Sahel initiative which stretches

    across northwest Africa.

    US oil conglomerates such as Halliburton, formerly run by Vice-

    President Dick Cheney, have also made substantial investments in the

    country's budding oil industry.

    Critics of Walad Taya's government say that in foiling the alleged

    coup plots, the authorities are able to round up and banish the

    political opposition, in particular the Islamic activists who are

    gaining ground among the country's 2.7 million people.

    Walad Taya has ruled Mauritania since 1984,

    maintaining his power in elections in 1992, 1997 and in 2003.



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