March 6, 2009 / 3:47 PM / 10 years ago

Ousted Mauritanian leader returns, due in Libya

Mauritania's ousted President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi gives a speech in the southern border town of Rosso, May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Vincent Fertey

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania’s ousted president returned to the capital on Friday and addressed supporters there for the first time since he was overthrown in a coup last year.

President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the country’s first democratically elected ruler, was due to fly to Libya to meet leader Muammar Gaddafi, currently the African Union’s president, Abdallahi’s party said.

Donors cut aid and cooperation after the coup in August. The African Union suspended Mauritania and imposed sanctions on those linked to the junta that controls the iron-rich nation which straddles black and Arab Africa.

Despite widespread pressure to reinstate Abdallahi, junta leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a former presidential guardsman, has retained power and set elections for June 6.

Previous attempts by the deposed president to return to Nouakchott were blocked by the security services.

“I am happy and I think this crowd shows that the Mauritanian people reject the coup and want my return to power,” Abdallahi told journalists in Arabic after entering the dusty capital surrounded by hundreds of supporters on Friday.

Abdallahi met several of Gadaffi’s advisors before he was due to fly to Libya. Gadaffi has also met Abdel Aziz in Libya in his efforts to end the political crisis in the Saharan Islamic state, which is also a minor oil producer and seen by the West as an ally in the fight against terrorism.

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