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By Scott Stearns
Dakar
10 January 2009

Mauritania's parliament has approved plans by the nation's military rulers to change the constitution to allow soldiers to run for office in May. The African Union says it is still working to restore constitutional order following last August's coup.

Mauritania's parliament approved the recommendations of a special political forum organized by military rulers to change the constitution and hold elections May 30.

Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf said the government will create a permanent electoral commission to organize free and fair elections in May. They will also amend the constitution to allow members of the military to be candidates in that vote.

General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz ( file photo)
General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (file photo)
General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz says the change reflects what he calls Mauritania's "new political and cultural reality." General Aziz took power last August after the nation's first freely-elected leader tried to fire him.

Deposed president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi boycotted the general's just-concluded political forum and has said that he intends to return to power. Parliament approved the changes despite the absence of one-third of its members, including its speaker who does not recognize the legitimacy of the Aziz coup.

The military government has been trying to avoid additional international sanctions after development and military aid was scaled back following the take-over. The African Union has suspended Mauritania, and the United States has issued travel restriction on the coup leaders.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping says civilian president Abdallahi must be returned to power.

Jean Ping (file photo)
Jean Ping (file photo)
"We are still in contact with the rest of the international community to bring back the constitutional order in Mauritania," he said.

Ping says the African Union is monitoring events in Nouakchott along with the European Union, the United States, the Arab League, and the Islamic Conference to coordinate action against Mauritania's military leaders.

"The sanctions have been envisaged to tell them that if you don't comply you will face sanctions, including going to the U.N. Security Council for that," he said.

Mauritania's parliament approved the political forum's recommendation to hold the first round of elections May 30 with a second round of voting, if needed, on June 13.

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