- Associated Press - Monday, June 24, 2019

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) - Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a retired general who served as defense minister before being picked as the chosen successor to Mauritania’s outgoing president, won the weekend election by a large margin, the country’s electoral commission announced.

The result had been widely expected and was swiftly confirmed after Ghazouani claimed victory Saturday evening within hours of polls closing.

The election paves the way for the first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960, though retiring President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz had a hand in choosing his successor. Aziz was barred from seeking a third term under Mauritania’s constitution.

Ghazouani received 52 percent of the vote, while Biram Dah Abied, a human rights activist who has campaigned against slavery in the West African nation, received nearly 19 percent, according to the electoral commission.

Mauritania, a desert nation and moderate Islamic republic, has managed to avoid the spillover in violence from neighboring Mali that has plagued Burkina Faso and Niger.

Mauritania, though, has suffered five coups since independence, and has been led by military rulers for much of that time. Aziz himself was head of the presidential guard when he seized power in a 2008 coup, although he said he did so to prevent a return to repressive military rule.

He then won a landslide election the following year that his opponents decried as a fraudulent “electoral coup.” Most opposition parties boycotted the 2014 election, when Aziz won 82 percent of the vote according to official results.

Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981 but did not criminalize it until 2007. The United States ended trade benefits with Mauritania late last year, saying that the country is not making sufficient progress toward combating forced labor, including slavery. The Mauritanian government, however, denies that slavery is widespread in the country.

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