- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — Tension mounted here yesterday, the final day of campaigning for the western African state’s presidential election, as a leading opposition candidate was accused of seeking to “sow disorder” two days ahead of the vote.

The accusation came after police raided the home of opposition candidate Muhammad Khouna Ould Haidalla, arrested two of his sons and used tear gas to break up a march that he and two other opposition candidates had called to protest police operations.

The campaign manager for longtime President Maaouyah Ould Sid Ahmed Taya charged that Mr. Haidalla, a former head of state who was ousted in a coup by Mr. Taya in 1984, was planning a coup in case the incumbent won tomorrow’s election under suspicious circumstances.

Campaign manager Hamoud Ould M’Hamed gave reporters a five-page document that he said contained the “coup plan.” Mr. M’Hamed said the so-called Grab Plan set out several variations, depending on the outcome of the six-way election.

The Senegal-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) said it was “deeply concerned” about the police operations against Mr. Haidalla and called for the release of his sons.

Earlier yesterday, several hundred people who had gathered in support of Mr. Haidalla dispersed without incident after police used tear gas to prevent what they called an unauthorized march. Mr. Haidalla and two other opposition candidates who had planned to march in solidarity with him had not arrived when police moved in.

The other two candidates were Ahmed Ould Daddah, the half-brother of Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania’s first president, who died last month, and Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, the first descendant of slaves to run for president here.

Police said they had searched Mr. Haidalla’s house as well as those of “some of his supporters and some mosques” and that two guns had been seized as “a precaution.”

They said they had been informed of “the determination of extremist groups … to dispute with violence any result of the election that is not favorable to them.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Haidalla’s eldest son, Sid’Ahmed, was arrested and accused of “engaging in intimidating and threatening acts with the aim of infringing public security,” a police statement said. Sources close to the candidate said yesterday that another son, Sidi Mohamed, was arrested on the same charges.

The election comes months after an attempted military coup was quashed violently in the former French colony.

Mr. Haidalla’s spokesman, Ely Ould Sneiba, said that if Mr. Taya is re-elected tomorrow, his victory will be recognized only if the vote takes place “without fraud and in a transparent manner.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch warned in September of a “climate of harassment of opposition members” in Mauritania and voiced fears over the fairness of the upcoming vote.

The government has not invited foreign observers to monitor the election.

The president’s spokesman, Mohamed Vall Ould Bellal, told reporters Tuesday that Mr. Taya would accept the outcome “without condition,” adding that this acceptance would be “a decisive and positive turning point” for the country.

Two other minor candidates, including a woman, also are running.

The election will go to a second round two weeks later if none of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of tomorrow’s vote.

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