Clashes erupt in Mauritania ahead of constitutional referendum

August 4, 2017 9:52 am

People hold a banner (R) reading “No to arbitrary arrests” during a demonstration against discrimination in Nouakchott, , on April 29, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

Police and opposition activists clashed Thursday in Mauritania’s capital on the final day of campaigning for a controversial constitutional referendum.
Authorities had refused to give the green light for protests opposing the constitutional changes in Nouakchott and three regions of the west African country, leading to what activists said was “excessive” use of tear gas in an area to the west of the capital.
A coalition drawn from a broad political spectrum including extremists and anti-slavery activists in the conservative West African nation opposes measures including abolishing the senate and changing the national flag, and some are boycotting Saturday’s vote.
Saleh Ould Henenna, a spokesman for the protesters, said, “We have to inform the authorities of our activities but we don’t have to wait for their approval,” denouncing “the dictatorship which governs this country.”
Activists, including the head of an anti-slavery group, had fainted during the rallies because of the tear gas, he said.
The came hours before President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz used a rally in the capital to denounce senators opposed to constitutional changes.

This file photo, taken on April 13, 2017, shows Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz looking on as he attends the opening of an exhibition at the Arab World Institute in Paris. (By AFP)

He accused them of “betraying the nation.”
The 60-year-old called on the crowd to demand the dissolution of the senate, which, he said, “costs a lot, has no use and does nothing.”
He also vowed to launch legal action relating to “far more serious cases,” without giving further details.
Senators rejected the abolition of their chamber in March, apparently to the government’s surprise as a majority are from the ruling party, prompting Aziz to call the referendum.
But the opposition fears that despite Aziz’s claims to the contrary, he is laying the groundwork for a third term in power, with his own prime minister saying recently he supported the idea.
Around 20 senators maintained a sit-in at the chamber on Thursday, under police guard.
Opposition lawmakers from the lower house have followed suit in solidarity with their peers, a parliamentary source told AFP.
shared on