Police forcefully disperse mass protest in Mauritania

Published Friday, May 4, 2012

A mass sit-in in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott arranged by a number of opposition parties was brutally dispersed by government forces on Thursday, activists said.

Police allegedly barricaded the area surrounding the peaceful protest, cutting off electricity and firing smoke grenades, tear gas, and water cannons into the area.

The raid happened early on Thursday morning activists said when security forces invaded and attacked protesters.

Mass pro-democracy protests have become regular in the predominantly Arab state in recent months.

Mauritanian blogger Ahmed Jedou, who took part in the protest, said a large number of opposition groups assembled and chanted for the end of military rule.

"The whole spectrum of the Mauritanian opposition took part in this sit-in: all parties, political forces, youth movements such as the 25 February movement that organized a night vigil during which they recited poems and repeated their slogan of months 'Down, down with military rule', which they have been saying for more than a year since the beginning of the Arab Spring," Jedou said, as translated by Global Voices.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar Jedou added that the protests would continue despite the crackdown.

"University students and youth movements and political forces will step up protests," he said. “The protest proved the legitimacy (of anger)...over the pace of protests”

Jedou also warned that there was a chance of violence if protesters continued to be met by force.

“The opposition do not like to use violence to gain the street, but the system will impose its use to respond to suppression.”

Another blogger described the attack, saying "scores" were injured, although this could not be verified independently.

"Police then attacked and beat protesters as they tried to escape. Scores of people were injured and dozens arrested in clashes that continued for over two hours. The injured included the leader of one of the opposition parties; the director of another opposition leader, Ould Daddah’s office; independent radio journalists; a pregnant woman who was overcome by tear gas and developed severe breathing difficulties; and a youth with internal bleeding," the blogger said.

The country's opposition is calling for parliamentary elections, which was scheduled to take place last year, but was delayed indefinitely.

They are also demanding President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, who took power following a military coup in 2008, stand aside.

Aziz claims that he is the legitimate leader of the country as he subsequently won an election in 2009, but opposition candidates said there had been “massive fraud” in the poll.

Last month the Coordination of the Democratic Opposition organized simultaneous marches in nine districts of Nouakchott.

Mauritania is also struggling with an influx of refugees from neighboring Mali, following an ongoing drought and a military coup in the country.

At least 61,000 Malians have fled to the country in recent months, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

(Al-Akhbar, Global Voices)

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