Nouakchott (Fides Service) – Calm is returning to Nouakchott, capital of Mauritania after the attempted coup days ago (see Fides Service link 9 June 2003). According to local sources the people have taken to the streets to celebrate the return to normality. The coup was staged by one army tank division while most of the army stayed loyal to the President Maaouiya Ould Taya. On Sunday 8 June the rebel soldiers attacked the president’s residence surprising the security guards. The President had only 15 minutes warning to leave the residence. The army chief of staff was killed as troops resisted the attack.
The army had a hard time stopping the rebels. Many were killed or wounded; the exact number has not been communicated by the local authorities.
Fides Service sources say the small Catholic community of about 4,000 was not affected by the fighting and no one was hurt. They say: “It is not easy to understand the rebels’ motives. What can be said is that they made a mistake in their calculations: they thought they would have the support of most of the army, but this did not happen. It could be that recent events in Iraq stirred up malcontent among soldiers involved in the past in collaboration with Baghdad, but for now this is just a hypothesis.”
Mauritania has a population of 2.5 million who are nearly all Muslims, but foreign citizens are allowed to practice another religion. Nevertheless in 1999 Mauritania became the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. These relations have been indicated by some observers as a possible reason for the coup. But so far there has been no official confirmation of the hypothesis. LM (Fides Service 11/6/2003 EM lines 29 Words: 255)