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Coup leader claims win in Mauritania poll

Opposition cries fraud, but moderate Muslim leader Aziz has popular support and is in charge.

Mauritania's sprawling desert landscape is sparsely populated and almost half its 3 million people are illiterate and live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

Aziz ran a populist campaign, calling himself the “President of the poor” and promising to improve health care and reduce food and fuel prices. In more repressive statements, he vowed to build more prisons to jail his political opponents, who he said were corrupt. 

“We support Aziz because we need security. He was military. He has the power to make security in this country,” said Baba Bakay, an out-of-work tourist guide in Rosso, a rural town on the Senegalese border.

Increased Al Qaeda activity, including the killings of French tourists in December 2007 and an American aid worker in Nouakchott last month, have hit the tourism industry hard, Bakay said, and he hopes Aziz’s military prowess will be able to reassure potential visitors.

Aziz justified last August’s coup as a defense of democracy, accusing then president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi of corruption, leniency toward extreme Islamists and complacency toward the growing terrorist threat.

Aziz had been campaigning since he took power last August, conducting three nationwide tours to win over what he called “deep Mauritania.”

As hundreds of supporters celebrated outside Aziz’s hotel, the newly elected leader denied allegations of fraud, saying if anybody cheated, it was the opposition because he only received 52 percent of the vote.

Opposition leaders told reporters Monday morning they will be presenting evidence of massive fraud in their complaint to the constitutional court.

Aziz supporters are confident in their victory.

“He’s the best for this country. We are proud to have made him president,” said university student Mariam Bellal. “The country was heading for catastrophe — economic crisis, security crisis. He freed our country from that president ... Sometimes democracy is not the best for our country."

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