Mauritania’s Aziz sworn in

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who toppled Mauritania’s first democratically elected leader in a military coup last year, was sworn in as president of the Saharan country after winning an election last month.
Defeated opponents have denounced the poll as a fraud, but France said it was ready to re-engage with the Islamic state, which has pledged to make the fight against al Qaeda a policy priority, Reuters reports.
“With this election, Mauritania has become not only respectable again, but also become once again for France a key partner in the region,” French Minister for Cooperation Alain Joyandet told reporters in the capital Nouakchott before the ceremony.
“President Aziz is particularly sensitive to the question of security and the fight against the terrorist threat,” he said, urging cooperation between Mauritania and Mali in this area.
Both Mauritania and neighbour Mali have been the scenes of al Qaeda attacks, the former most recently when the AQIM claimed responsibility for the shooting of an American aid worker in Nouakchott in June.
Speaking before several thousand supporters who attended the swearing-in ceremony in Nouakchott’s Olympic Stadium, Aziz pledged to fight corruption and uphold the rule of law.
Former colonial power France is one of Mauritania’s biggest partners in both trade and aid. In 2007 it set aside €93 million (R1070 million) in a four-year aid package, only 30 % of which has so far been paid. Joyandet said France would now consider releasing the rest of the funds.
“In the coming months, cooperation will be restarted and we will re-examine development priorities,” Joyandet said.
The EU suspended aid payments to Mauritania in protest at the military coup last August, but has indicated it may be willing to restart cooperation.
Domestic discontent
While the international response to the election appears positive, domestic opposition to Abdel Aziz and the manner in which he won 52.6 % of the vote with which he claimed the election rumbles on.
The National Front for the Defence of Democracy (FNDD), a political coalition which has campaigned for Abdel Aziz to step down since he seized power last year, said it would not participate in the investiture ceremony, which was attended by the heads of state of neighbouring Senegal and Mali.
“The election of July 18 was neither free, nor democratic, nor transparent,” the FNDD said in a joint statement with opposition party the Assembly of Democratic Forces (RFD) yesterday.
Candidates who stood against Abdel Aziz appealed last month to the constitutional court to annul the result, citing evidence they said would prove the vote was not conducted fairly, but the court dismissed that claim and upheld the poll result.
“This election is a coup d’etat legalised by fraud,” said Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, a former head of state who stood in July’s election, winning less than 4 % of the vote.
“As it does not have domestic legitimacy, it will not have international legitimacy,” he said.

Pic: President  Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania