Senior army generals have overthrown the president of Mauritania and taken power as a junta. What began as a dispute over the fledgling democracy’s presidential and military leadership has spun into a constitutional crisis, and in so doing rolled back important gains in one of Africa's newest democracies.
News reports emerging from the capital Nouakchott indicate that there has been no violence in the takeover, but the city has witnessed various protests against the unconstitutional coup. President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, his prime minister and interior minister have been arrested; government offices and local media were temporarily shut down.
With Mr. Abdallahi's election last year, the largely desert nation was poised to make social and political progress denied under the previous authoritarian rule. Mauritania’s location makes it a bridge between largely Arab North Africa and sub-Saharan West Africa. It is also a key ally in the global fight against terrorism, helping combat elements of al-Qaida that have been conducting training and launching attacks from camps in the Sahara.
Whatever problems the new military leaders had with Mr. Abdallahi, they've received no support for their unconstitutional action from the international community. The African Union has condemned the takeover and sent a representative to encourage a return to democratic rule. The United States condemned the coup in the strongest possible terms. France, the UK, Spain and the European Union also have spoken out. The military junta says it will hold elections, but gave no date for such action. Legitimate, constitutional, democratically elected government should be restored immediately and all imprisoned leaders released now.