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Mauritanian parties accuse rivals of foul play

20 November 2013, 12:46

Nouakchott - Mauritania's ruling party and Islamist opposition group traded accusations of foul play on Tuesday as the campaign for the west African nation's legislative and local polls drew towards its conclusion.

The governing Union for the Republic (UPR) - overwhelming favourites to win Saturday's elections - cast doubts over the funding of Tewassoul, a relatively new party fighting its first election.

"This party has much larger resources than my party. We want to know where these means are coming from," UPR national campaign director Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Jaavar said during a meeting in the capital Nouakchott.

He demanded that Tewassoul leaders "set themselves apart from the Islamists who have committed a lot of damage in the Arab and Muslim world".

"No party has the right to appropriate Islam, which is the religion of all of us, for itself," he added.

Meanwhile Tewassoul, a self-styled moderate party legalised in 2007 that professes to hold different beliefs and goals from Mauritania's jihadist fringe, hit back by accusing the UPR of illegally using public money to fund its electioneering.

Tewassoul campaign chief Cheikhani Ould Beiba Ould Beiba said the UPR was "using the attributes of the state, its material resources, photos of the president and putting pressure on workers and communities to get the support of uninformed people".

"Whatever the extent of all that, you can be sure we will achieve significant results," said Tewassoul leader Jemil Ould Mansour at a party gathering in Nouakchott.

The UPR is due to stage a large rally on Thursday in the capital, a key battleground where a third of Mauritania's population of 3.4 million people resides.

Mauritania, a mainly Muslim republic and a former French colony, is seen by Western leaders as strategically important in the fight against al-Qaeda-linked groups within its own borders, in neighbouring Mali and across Africa's Sahel region.

Around a third of its people are eligible to vote in the first parliamentary and local polls since 2006, two years before a coup mounted by junta chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The strongman was elected president in widely disputed polls in 2009.

Around 1 500 candidates have been on the campaign trail since 7 November, vying for the leadership of 218 local councils and 147 seats in parliament.

But Tewassoul is the only party in the 11-member Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD) taking part in what their coalition partners have called an "electoral masquerade".

Thousands of opposition activists marched through Nouakchott earlier this month to protest against the staging of the polls.

Mauritanian police on Monday crushed a second protest by hundreds of COD youth members demanding a boycott of the elections, leaving several with minor injuries.



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