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JOURNALIST ARRESTED COVERING ANTI-COUP DEMONSTRATION

Reporter Ahmed Ould Neda of the Nouakchott-based independent news agency "Akbar Info" was arrested on 7 August 2008 while covering a demonstration against Mauritania's new military regime. Police confiscated Neda's camera with pictures of a police assault, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) reported.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Neda was detained for three hours after refusing to hand over his pictures. Police fired tear gas at the small demonstration, but let another demonstration proceed the same day in support of the bloodless takeover.

One day earlier, General Mohammed Ould Abdul-Aziz, then head of the presidential guard, ousted democratically elected Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi after the president dismissed him and three other senior military officers. The General and his forces also seized Mauritania's state radio and television, and according to the regional web agency Menassat.com, sacked and arrested the manager, Kabir Ould Hammoudi.

Several newspapers failed to publish on 6 August after General Aziz's troops blocked the road to the country's only printing press, which is owned by the state. Menassat.com said newspapers blocked from publishing quickly resorted to the Internet.

Neda's arrest brought to three the number of journalists detained in Mauritania, MFWA added. Mohamed Nema Omar and Mohammed Ould Abdelatif of the Arabic-language newspaper "Al Houriya" had been in prison since 21 July over an article accusing three judges of corruption.

On 30 July about 30 journalists demonstrated against the detention of their colleagues outside the main court building in Nouakchott, the capital. With hands and ankles manacled, Oumar and Abdelatif were brought before an investigating judge half an hour later, said Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Abdelatif had been transferred to hospital, RSF said, with a lung problem aggravated by alleged police mistreatment intended to make him name the story's sources.

Mauritania, Africa's newest oil producer, spans Arab and black Africa and has been a U.S. ally, Reuters noted. The United States condemned Abdallahi's ouster and suspended non-humanitarian aid; the European Union, United Nations, Arab League and African Union also condemned the coup.

Abdallahi won elections last year after a 2005 coup - also instigated by Abdel Aziz - ended the 21-year dictatorship of Maaouya Ould Taya, who faces trial for alleged ethnic cleansing crimes. Ruling party in-fighting became rancorous, the UN agency IRIN reported, after a May reshuffle brought to power a dozen ministers from Ould Taya's regime.

While other senior officials including the prime minister were released, Abdallahi was held at a secret location and his family briefly kept under house arrest.

The junta declared that an 11-person state council would rule until elections are held. Other state institutions could operate normally, it said, including parliament - where most pro-Abdallahi legislators had quit his party on 4 August. Many of those legislators joined hundreds of people on the pro-coup march.

Visit these links:
- MFWA: http://tinyurl.com/5t5esl
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/5ght6t
- RSF on earlier detentions: http://tinyurl.com/64dbcs
- IFJ: http://tinyurl.com/6kadps
- Reuters on the coup: http://tinyurl.com/6z774s
- IRIN: http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?ReportID=79758
- Arab Press Network (APN): http://tinyurl.com/6rluf3
- Menassat.com: http://tinyurl.com/5oku3k
Photo: ousted President Abdallahi (courtesy africanews.com)

(13 August 2008)

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