The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is led by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, an ex-general who led a 2008 coup and won election a year later. He is tipped to win the June 21 presidential poll, amid a boycott by leading opposition groups.
- GEOGRAPHY: Mauritania is a vast, largely desert country linking North and sub-Saharan Africa. An Arabic-speaking nation of 3.8 million people, at 1,030,000 square kilometres (398,000 square miles) it is about as big as Egypt and nearly twice the size of France.
- HISTORY: The site of an ancient Berber kingdom, Mauritania was gradually settled by Arabs during the Middle Ages. In the 19th and early 20th centuries it was absorbed into France's colonial empire. The nation achieved independence in 1960, under the presidency of Moktar Ould Daddah.
Since independence the country has been shaken by territorial disputes along its borders, notably involving the former Spanish Sahara to the north.
It has experienced a string of military coups, in 1978, 1984, 2005 and 2008, when Abdel Aziz seized power, overthrowing a democratically elected president. He subsequently won a presidential election in 2009. The opposition cried fraud.
Abdel Aziz has led an active campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of the groups which controls the north of neighbouring Mali. He ordered raids on AQIM bases in Mali in 2010 and 2011.
- ECONOMY AND RESOURCES: Although very poor -- around 46 percent of the population lives below the poverty line -- Mauritania in early 2006 became one of the growing number of African countries to export oil.
Other sources of income are mining, for iron ore, copper, gold, phosphates and salt, agriculture and fishing.
The economy grew in 2012 by 6.2 percent, owing to fishing, construction and public works contracts.
Mauritania's per capita income was $1,110 (820 euros) in 2012, according to the World Bank, which ranked the country 177th worldwide.