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France accused of backing Khalifa Haftar in Libyan attacks

Portraits of French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia were also carried by demonstrators

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TRIPOLI, LIBYA - APRIL 19 : People attend a protest against Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar's offensive to seize Tripoli, Libya on April 19, 2019. Hazem Turkia / Anadolu Agency

Hundreds of “yellow vest” protesters on Friday demonstrated in Tripoli against an offensive by military strongman Khalifa Haftar on the Libyan capital and accused France of backing him.

Wearing the trademark yellow vests of French anti-government demonstrators, they were among thousands of Libyans who flooded a central Tripoli square to rally in support of the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

“We are surprised by France’s conduct in the face of the Tripoli attack,” read a sign held up by the demonstrators.

Portraits of French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia were also carried by demonstrators or placed on the ground for people to trample them.

Haftar is seen by his allies — Egypt and the United Arab Emirates — as a bulwark against Islamists who have gained a foothold in Libya after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

“Other countries must stop interfering in Libyan affairs,” Haifa Ferjani, a 23-year-old protester said.

“France says it is a friend but secretly backs those attacking our city and our homes,” added the young woman.

The French embassy in Libya on Friday tweeted — in Arabic — that Paris was “opposed to the attack” on Tripoli and urged all parties to abide by a ceasefire and engage in peace negotiations.

Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), based in the country’s east, launched an offensive on April 4 to take Tripoli, the western seat of the UN-recognised GNA.

Friday’s rally came days after a smaller protest brought out dozens of “yellow jacket” demonstrators who on Tuesday also demanded the GNA sever ties with countries that “back aggression” on Tripoli.

It also comes a day after UN envoy Ghassan Salame warned of “a widening conflagration” in other parts of the North African country.

On Thursday GNA interior minister Fathi Bach Agha lashed out at France, accusing it directly for the first time of supporting “the criminal Haftar” and saying it was cutting security ties with Paris. 

France immediately denied the claim.

“Tripoli’s claim of support and diplomatic cover for Haftar are completely unfounded,” a French foreign ministry official said.

“France supports the legitimate government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the mediation of the UN towards an inclusive political solution in Libya,” the French presidency said in a statement.

More than 200 people have been killed since the violence erupted, and more than 900 wounded, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

More than 25,000 have been displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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Opposition party candidates cry foul over ruling party victory in Mauritania elections

“We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people,”

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Mohamed Vall Ould Bellal, president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, attends a press conference

Mauritania’s ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has won the presidential election with 52 per cent of the vote, the electoral commission announced Sunday, with opposition candidates crying foul. Ghazouani easily beat main opposition opponents Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid (18.58 per cent) and Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar (17.87 per cent), according to the official figures from Saturday’s polls.

Former prime minister Boubacar, addressing a news conference along with three other candidates, charged that “multiple irregularities…eliminated any credibility” in the election, which was to be the first democratic transfer of power in the country.

“We reject the results of the election and we consider that they in no way express the will of the Mauritanian people,” he said, vowing the opposition would use “every legal means” to challenge them.

The CENI electoral commission said voter turnout was 62.66 per cent. With a clear majority, the 62-year-old Ghazouani, former head of the domestic security service, has won outright with no need for a second-round runoff election.

Appeal to the people

Ghazouani had already declared himself the winner in the early hours of Sunday in the presence of outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his supporters and journalists. Second-placed Abeid, an anti-slavery activist, told the opposition news conference: “We are launching an appeal to the Mauritanian people… to resist, within the bounds of the law, this umpteenth coup d’etat against the will of the people.”

Incidents broke out between protesters and police following Ghazouani’s declaration in the capital and in northwest Nouadhibou, the only province where he did not come in first. The opposition said they were planning protests from Monday afternoon.

“We will organise protests, this is our constitutional right,” Mohamed Ould Moloud, who got 2.44 per cent of the vote, told the news conference late Sunday, stressing they would be peaceful. Baba Hamidou Kane, who polled 8.71 per cent, said the four opposition candidates would lodge an official protest with the electoral commission on Monday.

Although the vote is the first in Mauritania’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and transfer power to an elected successor, the opposition has raised concerns that the vote could perpetuate a government dominated by military figures.

Some 1.5 million people were eligible to vote in the predominantly Muslim state, which is estimated to be twice the size of France but has a population of just 4.5 million.

Alleged irregularities

CENI advised all candidates “to show prudence and restraint”, and hoped the calm during the campaign and on the voting day would prevail. Both Abeid and Boubacar had complained of balloting irregularities and the expulsion of representatives from some polling stations. However, CENI said no major problems had been reported.

Ghazouani – who campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security – served as Abdel Aziz’s chief of staff from 2008 to last year. The outgoing president is a general who originally came to power in a 2008 coup. He won elections a year later and was again elected in 2014 in polls boycotted by the opposition.

Abdel Aziz repeatedly warned that the country could fall back into instability if his chosen candidate was not elected. He is credited with reforming the army, clamping down on jihadists and pushing to develop remote regions.

Nevertheless, rights groups have accused Mauritania’s government of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, while calling on the nation to do more to counter violence against women and slavery, which persists in the conservative state even though it was officially abolished in 1981.

Authorities rejected an opposition request for foreign observers at the election. All of the candidates promised improvements in the standard of living, though economic growth at 3.6 per cent in 2018 is insufficient to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank has welcomed the “macro-economic stabilisation” of the country, where annual growth is expected to average 6.2 per cent between 2019 and 2021. But it has called for barriers to be removed in the private sector, pointing in particular to corruption, as well as difficult access to credit.

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Boko Haram attack kills 8 in Chad

Security sources said the seven Chadian soldiers and the guard were killed in an ambush on Friday in Mbomouga in Chad’s Ngouboua area

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Seven Chadian soldiers and a local guard were killed in a Boko Haram jihadist ambush in Lake Chad, the latest in a surge of attacks in the region, security sources said on Sunday. Boko Haram militants have been waging a decade-long insurgency in northwest Nigeria, but the conflict has spilt into Lake Chad where Nigeria borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Security sources said the seven Chadian soldiers and the guard were killed in an ambush on Friday in Mbomouga in Chad’s Ngouboua area, and another 13 people were wounded. “The Boko Haram forces lost six of their people and left behind two weapons,” one security source said.

Among the soldiers killed was a gendarme colonel, the source said. Another source said three army officers were killed in the attack. Since 2018, Boko Haram has carried out at least nine attacks on Chad. But the jihadist group has stepped up attacks outside Nigeria after a period of calm last year

Last month, militants killed four people in an attack on a Cameroonian island on Lake Chad and Boko Haram killed another 13 villagers in eastern Chad. In March jihadists killed at least 23 Chadian soldiers in an attack on an army post in the group’s deadliest attack on the country’s military.

Since 2015, troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have been grouped into a mixed, multi-national force in a bid to help fight Islamist militants.

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Voters in Mauritania look forward to better conditions

The ballot is the first in the nation’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and hand over to an elected successor

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Mauritania Decides - Voters look forward to better conditions
Mauritanian voters queue in front of a polling station in order to cast their ballot, on June 22, 2019, in Nouakchoot during the presidential election. - Voters in the West African state of Mauritania went to the polls on June 22, 2019 after a campaign dominated by the country's economy and appeals to preserve its hard-won stability. The ballot is the first in the nation's coup-strewn history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and hand over to an elected successor. (Photo by Sia KAMBOU / AFP)

Voters in Mauritania went to the polls on Saturday after a campaign dominated by the country’s economy and appeals to preserve its hard-won stability.

The ballot is the first in the nation’s history that looks set to see an elected president complete his mandate and hand over to an elected successor.

Some 1.5 million people are entitled to vote. Polling stations opened at 0700 GMT and will close at 1900 GMT, with preliminary results expected at the start of next week.

At Nouakchott’s Olympic stadium, where frontrunner Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, a 62-year-old former general, is scheduled to cast his ballot at midday, queues had already formed when polling opened. 

One voter, Elalem Abdelbaqi, said he had come early to fulfil his civic duty. 

“The programme of the person I’m going to vote for promises everything that I’m looking for,” he told AFP, without revealing the name of his preferred candidate. 

Another, Abdellahi Ould Vettah, called for “peaceful change”.

“We want radical change, which is to say: equality, education and social justice,” he said. 

A woman voter, Fatimatou Ahmed, said “renewal is very important for us women”. 

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a general who came to power in a 2008 coup, is standing down after winning high marks from many Mauritanians for stabilising the country.

Elected in 2009 and again in 2014 in a vote boycotted by the main opposition parties, Abdel Aziz has reformed the army, clamped down on jihadists and pushed to develop remote regions of the vast Saharan state.

Frontrunner Ould Ghazouani is a one-time head of the domestic security service and chief of staff to Abdel Aziz from 2008 to last year.

Ghazouani campaigned on the themes of continuity, solidarity and security – “the country’s security, first and foremost,” he declared on Thursday at a final rally gathering 10,000 supporters, many of them young people.

Abdel Aziz has given full backing to his loyal lieutenant.

“There’s only two choices — either going backwards, towards extremism, waste and instability, or your candidate, who will continue what has been achieved to build a stable and developed state,” he declared at the rally.

Ghazouani’s main challenger is Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar, 62, who was prime minister between 1992 and 1996 and at the helm of a transitional government between 2005-7.

He hopes to win enough support to secure a runoff vote on July 6.

Boubacar is backed by a coalition led by the main opposition movement, Islamist party Tewassoul, and by wealthy Franco-Mauritanian businessman Mohamed Ould Bouamatou, a longtime thorn in the side of the regime who lives in Europe.

Nearly 30 percent said they would vote for Ghazaouani and 23 percent for Boubacar in a poll of 1,300 people conducted in the capital Nouakchott by the Mauritanian Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (CMERS) last week.

The four other candidates are outliers in the race, according to the poll.

Known especially abroad for his media campaigning, anti-slavery activist Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, 55, was credited with 9.5 percent of voting intentions, followed by veteran opposition figure Mohamed Ould Moloud, 66, with 3.7 percent.

Journalist Baba Hamidou Kane and political newcomer Mohamed Lemine El-Mourteji El-Wavi, each garnered under three percent.

Courting the vote

Candidates have been travelling around the country with a population to woo voters.

They have also courted the heads of tribes and clans in remote regions, who can mobilise whole communities behind a candidate.

The opposition has warned of vote fraud and accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) of bias.

The authorities rejected an opposition request for foreign observers.

Rights groups urged candidates to throw their weight behind a rollback of slavery, which persists in Mauritania, and curbing violence against women.

All the candidates promised improvements in the standard of living, though economic growth at 3.6 percent in 2018 is insufficient to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, according to the World Bank.

It has called on Mauritania to give more help to the private sector, where, it says, access to credit and corruption are major problems.

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