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Antislavery Campaigner Wins Mauritanian Presidency
First democratic government since independence in 1960
Amin George Forji (amingeorge)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-27 11:30 (KST)   
The Sahara desert country of Mauritania is set to swear in its first ever democratically elected president following the second round of its historic presidential poll, which took place on Sunday.

According to the results released on Monday by the Interior Ministry, leading antislavery campaigner and former cabinet minister Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won with 53 percent; his challenger, Ahmed Ould Daddah, leader of the opposition, received 47 percent. Abdallahi was supported by 18 political parties and pressure groups, as well as by the military junta. His campaign was further boasted by support from the third and fourth placed candidates from the first round, who all declared in favor of him.

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"I hereby proclaim that the next president of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania will be Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi," Interior Minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine was quoted by Reuters as proclaiming the results.

Turnout was said to be 67 percent, with an estimated 1.1 million people voting.

Standing as an independent candidate, Abdallahi promised during his campaigns to completely stamp out slavery, which is still widely practiced throughout the country, despite an official ban in 1981. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as "Mauritania's best kept secret." Mauritania, thanks to its geographical location at the heart of the Sahara, has an ethnically diverse population of Arab moors and black moors, most of mixed race. Slavery is rampant in both races, such that many indigens now see it as acceptable. In fact, this has been the main reason why the 1981 law has been ineffective. Abdallahi, however, promised special tough legislation that would criminalize the act.

The opposition leader, Daddah, 65, an economist, also campaigned against slavery, promising damages for former slaves and fines for lawbreakers.

Both candidates have bee imprisoned in the past by different military juntas. The present junta, which seized power in an August 2005 coup, was barred from contesting.

Abdallahi, 68, served as minister of state for the national economy from 1971 to 1978 under the former aristocracy of Moktar Ould Daddah, and later as minister of hydraulics, then as minister of fishing under another dictator, Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya between 1986-7.

International observers lauded the ballot as largely free and fair. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, the EU observer mission chief Marie-Anne Isler Beguin said: "Nothing has stopped the process. There have been no incidents, no unauthorized people in polling stations."
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amin George Forji

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