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Mauritania outlaws coups d'état

By Bakari Gueye in Nouakchott for Magharebia -13/12/12

Carrying out a coup d'état is now punishable by law in Mauritania. Offenders would be subject to imprisonment, fines and other penalties such as forfeiture of civil rights.

During a November 29th cabinet meeting chaired by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Mauritanian government examined and approved a bill criminalising putsches and other forms of anti-constitutional changes of authority. These offenses will now be considered "crimes against the stability of the state", the final communiqué stated.

"This draft law stems from the national dialogue between the consolidated governing majority and opposition parties, and in particular the provisions of constitutional law no. 2012-015 of 20 March 2012," the statement read.

Legal expert Baba Ould Cheikh explained that on March 6th, "parliament voted to adopt a number of constitutional amendments including one making the prime minister accountable to both chambers and another outlawing coups d’état."

"Six of the seven heads of state it has had since the overthrow of Moktar Ould Daddah in 1978 have come from the military," Ould Cheikh added.

Ould Cheikh noted that the new legislation "should quell the ardour of would-be putschists as the penalties in the event of a coup d’état provide an adequate deterrent and will pose major setbacks for those who orchestrate them"

"The fact that coups d’état are being outlawed in Mauritania marks a real turning point as this is a decision which strengthens democracy and encourages changes of authority by democratic means - that is, peaceful handovers of power," remarked Professor Ball Mohamed.

The new legislation was ratified on September 17th during the ceremony marking the end of the dialogue between the governing majority and opposition parties, explained Mohamed. In March, just after the takeover in Mali, former Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio spoke of the "nomadic curse of coups d’état" which cause huge damage to Africa.

"We have never seen military officers rising up to act as defenders of democracy," he said.

Gadio suggested the idea of "criminalising coups d’état in all their forms".

The most recent Mauritanian putsch occurred in August 2008. The reins of power were taken up by former General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. He left the army to stand in the presidential elections held in July 2009, and won.

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