- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mauritania, the sprawling Islamic nation on the northwest coast of Africa, this week reaffirmed its commitment to fight terrorism shoulder to shoulder with its Western allies and to continue its diplomatic relations with Israel.

“We have said no to terrorism and we shall not back away from our diplomatic ties with Israel,” Mauritanian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ould Sid Ahmed said at a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times on Monday.

The Mauritanian pledge comes at a moment of flux and uncertainty in Israel and the Muslim world after the landslide victory of the Islamist militant group Hamas in Palestinian legislative elections.

Mr. Ahmed, who is in Washington this week for the National Prayer Breakfast, called Mauritania’s ties with the United States “of paramount importance” to the moderate Islamic republic.

He also appeared intent on proving that his nation is firmly on the road to democracy, leaving behind the long years of coup-inspired military rule that riddled Mauritania with corruption, arbitrary rule, de facto slavery, the absence of personal freedoms and of the rule of law.

“We hope to set an example of democracy for our region and for the continent,” Mr. Ahmed said.

The present government in Mauritania, however, came to power in a military coup, ending the 21-year strong-arm rule of Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya.

Col. Eli Ould Mohamed Vall has taken off his soldier’s garb and is ruling as a civilian president.

His administration has taken several steps toward achieving a new democratic order:

• A decree prohibits all current military men or civilians in authority from holding office in the projected new government.

• A proposed constitutional amendment limits the president to two terms.

• An electoral commission is being set up in the hope that it will assure free and fair elections.

• A commission is being created to reorganize the judiciary with the goal of sanctifying the rule of law.

Meanwhile, as in the rest of the world, the shadow of China’s economic boom is beginning to fall over Mauritania as Beijing pursues vital resources such as oil and extractive minerals needed by industries to fuel growth.

Asked whether such activities are taking place in Mauritania, Mr. Ahmed answered, “yes,” and added that China’s presence is “also being felt in the consumer goods industry.”

Travelers to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s Atlantic seaside hub, report that Chinese consumer goods are on display everywhere in the stalls and stores of the national capital.

Asked whether Chinese economic activities are creating a new wave of competition in Mauritania, the foreign minister said: “This phenomenon is just beginning.”

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