/ mɔːrəteɪniə /
A country in West Africa with a provisional military government; largely Sahara Desert; Also called: Mauritanie, Muritaniya.
Country in NW Africa, bounded NE by Algeria, E and S by Mali, SW by Senegal, W by the Atlantic Ocean, and NW by Western Sahara.
The 1991 constitution provides for a two-chamber legislature, comprising a 79-member national assembly, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, and a 56-member senate, indirectly elected by municipal leaders for a six-year term. The president is directly elected for a six-year term. The president can appoint a prime minister as head of government.
Mauritania was the name of the Roman province of NW Africa, after the Mauri, a Berber people who inhabited it. Berbers occupied the region during the 1st–3rd centuries AD, and it came under the control of the Ghana Empire (see Ghana, ancient) in the 7th–11th centuries. The Berbers were converted to Islam from the 8th century, and Islamic influence continued to dominate as the area was controlled by the Almoravids and then the Arabs. French influence began in the 17th century, with the trade in gum arabic, and developed into colonization by the mid-18th century, when France gained control of S Mauritania.
In 1920 Mauritania became a French colony as part of French West Africa. It achieved internal self-government within the French Community 1958 and full independence 1960. Moktar Ould Daddah, leader of the Mauritanian People's Party (PPM), became president 1961.
Western Sahara conflict
In 1975 Spain ceded Western Sahara to Mauritania and Morocco, leaving them to decide how to share it. Without consulting the Saharan people, Mauritania occupied the south, leaving the north to Morocco. A resistance movement developed against this occupation, the Popular Front for Liberation, or the Polisario Front, with Algerian backing, and Mauritania and Morocco found themselves engaged in a guerrilla war, forcing the two former rivals into a mutual defense pact. The conflict weakened Mauritania's economy, and in 1978 President Daddah was deposed in a bloodless coup led by Col Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla. Peace with the Polisario was eventually agreed Aug, allowing diplomatic relations with Algeria to be restored.
The only political party, the PPM, was banned 1978. Some of its exiled supporters continued to operate from Paris through the Alliance for a Democratic Mauritania, and from Dakar, in Senegal, through the Organization of Nationalist Mauritanians.
Taya takes over in military coup
In Dec 1984, while Col Haidalla was attending a Franco-African summit meeting in Burundi, Col Moaouia Ould Sidi Mohammed Taya, a former prime minister, led a bloodless coup to overthrow him. Diplomatic relations with Morocco were broken 1981 and the situation worsened 1984 when Mauritania formally recognized the Polisario regime in Western Sahara. Normal relations were restored 1985. During 1989 there were a number of clashes with Senegalese in border areas resulting in the death of at least 450 people. The presidents of the two countries met to try to resolve their differences. Citizens of each country were forced to return to their native country, with nearly 50,000 people repatriating by June. In 1991 there were calls for the resignation of President Taya, despite a promise of multiparty elections and an amnesty granted to political prisoners.
multiparty system approved
Voters approved a new constitution Aug 1991 that increased political freedom, and opposition parties were legalized. Taya formed the Democratic and Social Republican Party (PRDS) as his main political vehicle. The first multiparty elections for the presidency were held Jan 1992 and for the assembly March 1992. Alleging ballot rigging, the opposition parties boycotted the March 1992 elections, allowing the ruling PRDS a clear win. In April 1992 diplomatic relations with Senegal, severed 1989, were restored. A report by the US-based group, Human Rights Watch–Africa, published 1994, accused the government of sanctioning slavery and torture of its black citizens.