Mauritania holds elections despite opposition boycott

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (file photo) Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz was elected as president a year after seizing power

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Mauritanians have voted in general and local elections - the first since a military coup five years ago.

The party of leader Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, the Union for the Republic, is expected to retain power.

However, the poll was boycotted by almost all the radical opposition parties. They have described it as an "electoral masquerade".

The main Islamist party, Tewassoul, took part, but in what it described as a struggle against a "dictatorship".

Mr Abdel Aziz was elected president a year after seizing power, but Mauritania's Islamist opposition have never accepted the result.

Western powers consider mainly Muslim Mauritania as a bulwark against the influence of al-Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahel region.

About a third of the country's 3.4 million population were eligible to vote.

Dialogue door 'open'

Some 1,500 candidates took part, from 74 parties representing the administration and "moderate" opposition.

They competed for 147 seats in parliament and the leadership of 218 local councils.

First results are due to come in on Sunday.

A second round is to be held on 7 December for those constituencies where no candidate gains enough votes to win outright.

Casting his ballot in the capital Nouakchott on Saturday, President Abdelaziz said the opposition had lost its parliamentary voice over the past five years - but the door to dialogue would remain open.

The head of Tewassoul, Mohamed Jamil Ould Mansour, said after voting that his party had documented irregularities during the campaign and now awaited the result of the ballot.

Referring to the opposition boycott, he said, "We hope that the citizens would go to the voting stations and to cast their votes en masse."

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