Mauritania: Hot Heads and Cold Shoulders

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As the wealthy upper management of Canada’s Kinross Gold were celebrating Christmas, a large group of almost 300 members of its workforce at the Tasiast operation in Mauritania received the unwelcome news that they were being laid off. The official line is that this was all part of a necessary strategy to cut costs and reduce operational capacity, and is also related to a fall in the price of gold.

The workers in Mauritania say they have not been treated fairly, that collective redundancies are not legal, and that they have a raft of additional issues which need to be addressed. One worker told a local reporter that he received his notice while taking his first vacation from work in six years. Another got the news while still undergoing medical treatment for an industrial injury. Several of those laid off had been encouraged to take out large bank loans, the status of which is now a major problem.

Frustrated by the lack of reaction, a group of workers began an open-ended sit-in outside the Presidential Palace in Nouakchott on December 25 to demand a hearing and request fair treatment under the prevailing law. As usual, a representative from the office of President Aziz came out to receive the demands of the delegation, but returned to say Aziz would not grant them an audience. The protesters remained in place, throughout the bitterly cold nights.

After the sit-in continued for some days without redress from the company or action by the authorities, local activists and concerned members of civil society went to sit with them and show solidarity, and returned on January 5 to take part in a human chain of protest, as shown in the video above, and the photo gallery below.

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The media responded with a blanket of silence – the mining companies in Mauritania are big spenders when it comes to advertising contracts. The parties of the political opposition likewise had little to say.

Then, late on Thursday 9 January, the sit-in had a visit from the police. The mining workers were told they must leave the area because President Keita of Mali was coming to pay an official visit and they were making the place look untidy. Naturally, they refused to budge. Another group of unrelated protesters who were in the same location that evening did comply with police orders to vacate the area.

At around 02:55, the riot squads arrived in eight vehicles and, after talking quietly with the workers for about 15 minutes, launched a sudden violent attack, using batons and tear gas. After two brutal hours of police repression against the workers from Tasiast, and the activists who rushed to their side in support, there were about a dozen people injured. Four men with more with serious injuries were refused treatment, through the combined obstruction of medical staff at the National Hospital and the police. Several protesters were robbed of cash and mobile phones by the police while being searched; an amount of 400,000 MRO has been reported. The police also confiscated blankets, rugs, clothes and cooking gear from the sit-in.

Police released about 10 workers arrested during the raid and the running battle in the streets of Nouakchott which ensued; the rest were released later. There was no media presence the entire time, only activists from Mouvement du 25 Février (m25fev) and La Jeunesse de RFD trying to document events. One of the m25fev activists was injured quite seriously in the shoulder and was detained by police for about 2 hours.

The protests in the capital continued on Saturday 11 January, despite the previous day’s violence.

Protesting mine workers outside Tasiast HQ Nouakchott

Protesting mine workers outside Tasiast HQ Nouakchott

The protesters switched location to stand outside the Kinross office in Nouakchott, but an activist reported to a local journalist that the management there called the police, claiming the protesters were throwing stones – which the activist strenuously denied. Police cordoned off the area and there was an unconfirmed report that tear gas was used again.

This issue is being systematically ignored, while far larger “Islamic” protests are being orchestrated in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou to demand the application of Sharia law against the author of a recent blog post which was critical of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Massive protest march after Friday prayers descended on the presidential palace

Massive protest march after Friday prayers descended on the presidential palace

These protests are growing in size and turning violent. On Saturday 11 January in Nouadhibou, three injuries – including one police officer – were reported after clashes with police. The previous day, that town saw large protests with tyres being burned, cars and shops vandalised, as police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Local journalist Ahmed Salem was beaten and arrested by police. In Nouakchott, hundreds marched to the palace and the president came down to address the crowd, and remind them that Mauritania is an Islamic Republic which already uses Sharia.

10Jan Aziz outside the palace

Aziz dons his turban to address people outside the palace

Deeply reminiscent of the book burning incident of May 2012, this Aziz PR stunt has drawn immediate censure across the board, including from some highly influential commentators. Although the worst of the criticism was reserved for Aziz, there was some remaining for an obviously false claim by one (barely legitimate) news site that Al Qaeda flags had been spotted in the Nouadhibou protests, which is being resoundingly refuted. There is also mounting concern about the decidedly un-Islamic behaviour of robberies and violence being reported.

As for the alleged reason for these massive, repeated protests – the offensive article – this is a most unusual situation and one which is perhaps too easily exploited.  The supposed author of the article was arrested over a week ago, and was sent to the High Court for arraignment a few days later, after admitting to writing the item in question. He is said to have been charged with apostasy, which is covered in Article 306 of the current penal code. He can be fined and sentenced to prison if he makes a public apology, or he can refuse and be sentenced to death. He has already issued a written retraction and apology before being arrested (or taken into protective custody, depending on the source). No one has been executed in Mauritania for decades.

These twinned sagas will continue, the redundant Tasiast workers will be ignored, while demanding redress under a law which exists but probably doesn’t apply to their specific situation; and the devout Muslims will be showered with attention, demanding introduction of a law that would be redundant because one already exists and is being applied. By Tuesday, 14 January, the day assigned as the anniversary of the birth of Mohammed (PBUH), this particular powder keg could be set to explode.

Chile’s Student Protest Movement: Lessons for all

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On 25 April, police in Chile again used a water cannon to disperse protesters in Santiago and made several arrests.

According to news reports, the demonstration was led by private university students with the backing of other student groups and was also joined by secondary students, workers groups and others backing the students’ calls for deep education reforms.

My attention was first grabbed by Chile protests in 2010, when I saw a wonderful flash mob protest video.

The sight of dozens of students stopping traffic in the capital while they danced the “Waka Waka” was a powerful and positive example of peaceful non-violent protest.  I felt sure it would inspire more creativity among protest groups around the world. The following year, 2011, there were indeed protests worldwide, though flash mobs were not a major feature. Chilean students protests increased, and they excelled themselves when hundreds performed another flash mob to Michael Jackson’s legendary “Thriller” track.

However, demands for greater government support for student fees and reforms in the education sector in Chile were largely ignored. As the student protest movement grew, and they began to occupy colleges, there were violent clashes with police. The scenes are all too familiar.

Fast forward to 2013 and a new education minister, Carolina Schmit, has recently been appointed – the fourth since 2011 – but students are unhappy that repeatedly changing the government scapegoat is a useless delaying tactic, the reforms promised in 2011 have not emerged, and the protests continue.

Camila Vallejo

Camila Vallejo

Upwards of a quarter of a million students were said to have taken part in a march on 11 April. In a now-familiar pattern, police responded to the marches with tear gas and water cannons. At least 109 people were arrested and eight police officers were reported injured. The size and militancy of the protests showed the strength of the student movement, said student leader Camila Vallejo (Twitter: @camila_vallejo) who is now a political candidate and happily married mum-to-be. “This symbolizes that the student and social movement didn’t go home and that the movement is here to stay,” Vallejo told local ADN radio. As a student leader, Vallejo helped inspire the wave of protests with up to 200,000 students marching through Santiago every week, which brought education in Chile to a standstill, causing entire academic years to be cancelled.

Over the past 20 years Chile has made significant strides in expanding access to higher education. However, much of this expansion has been achieved through for-profit private universities of uneven quality. Overall, the state pays only 15 percent of higher education costs, leaving families to come up with the rest, often by taking on heavy debt.

Giorgio Jackson

Giorgio Jackson

I learned from listening to a video of a talk by another former Chilean student union leader, Giorgio Jackson, that the protest movement began some years ago, and has gone through several iterations and renewals, adapting and learning how to rise above the government’s repression and clumsy attempts at infiltration and division, and despite apparent conflicts of interest at the group level, to create a unified movement of civil society activists with a common purpose. I was encouraged to learn there was something far more organised and structured behind that joyful Waka Waka dance video than I realised. My research for this post led me to believe that the ideas and effort are entirely home-grown, but the Center for Latin American Studies and the Berkeley Law School described the Chilean and similar movements throughout the Americas as evidence of a “Chilean Winter”. I assume they chose that phrase as a counterpoint to the “Arab Spring” tag so gratuitously bestowed by think tanks and pundits on uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. I wonder why they like to show off that way: such patronage inevitably invites speculation that the US or whoever is fomenting unrest, and threatens to dilute the power and credibility of the protest movements themselves.

Without assigning a “media conspiracy” label, I do feel that the relatively low coverage of the thinking and planning behind the protests in Chile is a pity, because there is much to learn from their experiences. I hope this post helps point anyone who is interested to know more in the right direction. Please post additional links or observations in the comments.

 

Mauritania Opposition Reaffirm Rejection of Mali Military Intervention

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Musicians entertained people with traditional songs as they gathered for another massive rally in Nouakchott on the evening of Tuesday,18 December 2012.

Demonstrators chanted slogans demanding the departure of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, and that the military quit its involvement in politics.

Opposition leaders addressed tens of thousands in the yard of Ibn Abbas mosque, at the Festival entitled “Promise of Victory”.

Ahmed Ould Daddah, arguably the most eminent statesman in the opposition coalition line-up, gave a stirring speech invoking hope for the future, and ambition to restore the pride and dignity of the country. Ould Daddah also gave a stern warning against any military intervention in Mali, including providing logistical support, highlighting concern that any involvement would reflect negatively on security and stability for Mauritania. Being committed to fight terrorism, he argued, does not mean engaging in activities that are against the interests of the nation. The real enemies, he added, are ignorance, poverty, hunger and internal strife.
In conclusion, he wished Ould Abdel Aziz a speedy recovery, stressing that he bears him no personal malice, despite his unsuitability for leadership.

In other news, Mauritania’s second president, Mustafa Ould Salek, died in a Paris hospital on Tuesday 18 December, aged 86. Ould Salek was the pioneer of Mauritania’s enduring tradition of coups d’etat: he seized power from  President Mokhtar Ould Daddah in February 1978. Given that the Election Commission – despite a recent statement promising to set a date – admitted that they are still not in a position to stage the much-delayed elections, it seems there is little chance of Mauritania outgrowing Ould Salek’s legacy in the foreseeable future.

Photos: Latest News Network.

20 Dec Update: Another video from @jnsRFD  shows the true extent of the attendance at the festival, being reported rather grudgingly by some media as “hundreds of supporters”.

In a further, related move, authorities have withdrawn approval for the youth section of the opposition to hold a meeting in the Old Youth House. The youth say they are determined to go ahead with their plans regardless.

Human Rights bodies denounce abuses in Mauritania

21 Nov 2012 Aziz returns to Mauritania after 6 weeks convalescing in Paris to conceal the severity of his injuries
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The International Federation for Human Rights on Wednesday denounced extrajudicial killings, repression, torture and other rights abuses in Mauritania.

“If, under the regime of (President) Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, people dare to exercise their rights, they are often victims of repression, arrest and imprisonment,” read a joint report with the Mauritania Human Rights Association published Wednesday. President Aziz is a controversial figure who seized power in a military coup after the president he helped to install tried to dismiss him. Aziz then resigned from the military to run for president. His actions cause international outrage and most sources of international funding were frozen or withdrawn.  With the support of influential figures such as the late Colonel Gadaffi in Libya and the former French President Sarkozy, he was able to persuade the IMF, World Bank, African Union and other interested groups to reinstate their support. He has further cemented his standing in the international community by championing the very lucrative “war on terror” and occasionally supplying jailed terrorists for hostage swaps.

The rights bodies said the indefinite postponement of legislative and local elections in 2011, which led to protests from the opposition, could be linked to these rights violations.

The report denounced “extrajudicial killings, excessive and fatal use of force, violence while trying to maintain order, arrests and arbitrary arrests, acts of torture … and unjust judicial procedures.”

The two most recent extrajudicial killings happened right around the time Aziz was injured, in what is officially described as an accidental shooting, on 13 October 2012. Both were prisoners who died under torture. The fate of a third prisoner who was said to have been taken to the Nouakchott military hospital is unknown. You can be certain he was not airlifted to France for treatment, which is what happened to president Aziz.

“The consolidation of a democratic regime must pass through a balancing of power and the organisation as soon as possible of free and fair legislative elections and the strengthening of judicial independence,” the report said.

It also called for the end of impunity for those implicated in atrocities against black Mauritanians under former president Maaouiya Ould Taya, who was in power for 21 years until a 2005 coup.

Political anger has simmered in the large, arid north-west African nation since current leader Abdel Aziz seized power in another military coup in 2008.

Despite his election as a civilian candidate a year later, the opposition has never accepted his rule as legitimate and continue to demand widespread political reforms and adherence to the Dakhar agreement of 2008.

On Wednesday the opposition boycotted celebrations of the country’s 52nd anniversary of independence from France to protest his regime.

Protests have multiplied in the country since 25 February 2011, when the “Arab Spring” erupted in the Maghreb and Egypt, and the opposition’s calls for Abdel Aziz to step down have increased in recent weeks, after an initial pause out of respect for concern over his health. A mass march, one week ago, attracted an estimated 100,000 people in the country’s capital, Nouakchott. Here’s a video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i74xqP2vJgg]

The 55-year-old leader returned  on Saturday from his 40-day convalescence in France. His supporters rallied to greet him at the airport, joined by others, who were cajoled, bribed and ordered to attend to ensure a large crowd, but the reception was immediately followed by a rash of independent protests by various groups demanding their rights.

21 Nov 2012 Aziz returns to Mauritania after 6 weeks convalescing in Paris to conceal the severity of his injuries

One such group is protesting to demand to know the location of their relatives, a group of prisoners held incommunicado since April 2011 in a secret prison on charges related to terrorism or endangering national security. Others include unemployed workers in a mining area, Zouerate; teachers who have been arbitrarily reassigned to new schools, many in remote areas of the country; students demanding improvements to their dilapidated university and an updated curriculum, and who have not had any increase in their grants despite rising costs of education; suppliers to the government, protesting unfair treatment by the ministry; political opposition who were denied a licence for a rally on Independence day; residents of R’kiz [Arkiz], a small town where three babies died on Monday after being vaccinated against measles, demanding government action and an immediate investigation; and members of a group that formed in April 2011 to protest against racial inequality in the administration of the new registration programme. This last group was thought to have been mollified by changes to the programme agreed last year, but reappeared on the anniversary of independence on 1960, which is also the anniversary of the 1991 execution by the armed forces of 28 Mauritanian men of black African descent.

27 Nov 2012 Arkiz residents demand investigation into baby deaths

Mauritanians face many issues, yet they are also sympathetic to other causes, as shown in this video from the 16 November mass march and rally, when they said prayers for Gaza during the most recent exchange of bombardment with Israel.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkx9QdnBeCI]

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Includes content from AFP via ReliefWeb.

#Mauritania News in Brief 7 August 2012

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The last news summary for Mauritania told of a tragic plane crash [fr] which claimed the lives of seven people, including members of the Air Force and customs officials, and the twist of fate which spared the life of one other. As I write, people are still posting tributes to the victims on a FaceBook event page [ar].

Protests followed death of  mining worker Mohamed Ould Machdhoufi

The people’s grief was amplified by another senseless death just days later, when the national guard staged a dawn raid on a peaceful sit-in by MCM copper mining workers, killing Mohamed Ould Machdhoufi and wounding several others. The authorities – already under fierce public scrutiny over the hiring of military personnel to serve commercial interests, the cause and circumstances of the crash, and the appointment of the Air Force squadron commander to the investigation committee – infuriated people by declaring the cause of death to be “unknown”.

Mining workers’ union rep Ethmane Ould Kreivit

MCM’s operating company, First Quantum Minerals of Canada, then aggravated the situation by issuing a press release that made no mention of the death or injuries, and claiming the strike was illegal. Several workers, including union leader Ethmane Ould Kreivit, were attacked in a subsequent protest, and jailed for several days. On his release, the union leader was prevented from entering the workplace. When agreement to return to work was finally reached, MCM deducted more days’ pay than had been lost. This particular powder-keg is likely to reignite in the near future.

Tasiast gold mine is also run by a Canadian firm, Kinross Gold, which has witnessed a series of strike actions, and is currently trying a little harder than MCM,although that is a low bar. On Sunday 5th August, the company announced it would increase the supply of water for some households near the plant. The statement said this is standard practice designed to provide additional help to deal with the ongoing drought. However, if that is the case, I do wonder why they waited until so far into the rainy season to implement this measure.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-pMxb7hCfg]
This short video [ar] highlights the issues caused by the drought and water shortages

No clean drinking water for months, then .. floodwater!

On July 19th, there was another mass march demanding the departure of Aziz, and torrential rains wreaked havoc on rural communities, taking the life of an 18 year-old in Magta Lahjar who drowned while trying to escape the floods. People have been protesting all across Mauritania for many months because of water shortages, increased prices for potable water, lack of repairs to wells, unfair distribution of subsidised food and cattle feed, land disputes, corruption, labour disputes, and electrical power disruption in many parts of the country. The biggest recent power failure occurred at the beginning of August, affecting large areas of Nouakchott for extended periods, with hospitals, offices, stores and homes affected. On Sunday 5th August, an off-duty power company manager responded to a call for help but was electrocuted while trying to repair a relay. He died instantly. This husband and father of four daughters was known as a “good Samaritan” in the local community.

Also on July 19th came news that Mauritania had released some terrorist prisoners [ar] as part of the exchange deal for three European hostages kidnapped from their housing near the Tindouf refugee camp in Algeria in October 2011.
Mauritania has lost some ranking in the media coverage of the unrest in Mali, and was not on the list of countries visited by French FM Laurent Fabius, nor one of Hillary Clinton’s stops on her tour of Africa.  Considering the travel advisories being issued this should not come as any surprise. The regime remains bullish, continuing to act and speak about the situation with complete disregard for the sovereignty of its troubled neighbour. Sunday night Aziz reaffirmed to his audience [fr] the country would not intervene militarily. Then on Monday, Algeria reportedly [ar] reversed its former, more conservative, position and announced willingness to deploy troops in cross-border raids against terrorist operations in northern Mali, in conjunction with units from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. This is presumably the action the US, via AFRICOM command, with backing from the EU – and France in particular – has been pressing for in their regular calls for “increased regional cooperation”. A dizzy political game is afoot, and has been from the start.
20th July saw the start of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims. Many food prices increased overnight, especially meat, and another increase in fuel prices added to the pressure of economic inflation. Despite the higher fuel costs and several fatal road accidents, the very popular but highly dangerous night-time antics of “Wacky Races” [fr] returned to Mauritania, along with evening matches of 5-a-side soccer.
There are some inspiring and very successful humanitarian initiatives for Ramadan, a traditional time of giving charity, and many events to help the hungry, sick and needy with strong donor support, especially from Mauritanian ex-pats in Angola, for a joint campaign launched by Bellewar Media TV, First Step for Development and Mauritanie Demain.
In a unique event that one might also class as an act of charity, former “Islamicist” leader Boumiah Ould Ebyah returned to Mauritania after many years in Kuwait, and immediately declared his support for Aziz. Within 6 days he had been appointed to a post in the president’s office!
The anti-pornography protesters (actually I am trying to train myself to call them “pro-morality” campaigners) resumed their protests in Nouakchott at the end of July. To my great surprise the police attacked them with tear gas and batons! Out again they went, and again the police attacked. At the start of August the group applied for a protest permit and it was rejected. The image on the right is of their application letter. Is it just me who finds the logo reminiscent of the Playboy Bunny, reversed?

Logos aside,  I am still completely confounded by this group being violently repressed. Does it mean the authorities are pro-pornography? How do we reconcile this with president Aziz’ “Defender of Islam” speech to the gathering which massed (with a speed I found highly doubtful) outside the palace, after abolitionist Birame Ould Obeid burned a few books containing the Islamic scholar Maliki’s works pertaining to slavery? Birame – in failing health, and 6 of his companions, are still in prison despite the charge of apostasy being thrown out by the judge. New charges of “acting against national security”were cited, although there has been no proper hearing. Their arbitrary detention has lasted 99 days so far and protests have continued throughout. There were additional protests after a radio programme discussing slavery, which resulted in the presenter being dismissed.

Protest demanding release of jailed abolitionists

Students continued to face problems in the past month: detention of medical students who protested their expulsion; increased fees for some foreign students; denial of passports and travel papers for students not receiving grants; expiration of travel documents leaving students stranded in Morocco; and a reduction in the number of sponsored places in Mauritania. Plus, the next batch of higher education students will be small – the pass rate for the Baccalaureate exams was only 9%.

Another protest group which reappeared in the past week or so is the unemployed graduates, who gained a lot of attention after storming the grounds of the presidential palace in May, and then beginning a hunger strike. Fishermen, sailors and dock workers in Nouadhibou all held protests in the past 10 days. For my next update, I may save a few hundred words and post only names of groups that do not protest!

Messaoud Ould Boulkheir

Under “disappearances” we can list the “initiative” of Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, who had been waving a reconciliation plan at the opposition, just to fill in some time until the government announced plans to hold an election, or some elections, in 2 or 3 or 4 month’s time, depending on whose statement is quoted. Once the election announcement was ready – just after agreeing a new fishing deal with the EU – Aziz rejected Messaoud Ould Boulkheir’s initiative: a clumsy political manoeuvre designed to appear like a crushing blow to both Ould Boulkheir and the opposition coalition. Meanwhile, the new EU fishing agreement is being widely condemned by many industry groups. The president of Europêche, Javier Garat, said last week that the “unaffordable” deal will cause the loss of 10,000 jobs and 60 million Euro. Meanwhile, the president of the Shipowners’ Association of Marín, Andrés Guiance, warned that the EU agreement with Mauritania will make Marín “a dead port.”

Senussi just another pathetic coward and fraud

Senussi

Former Libyan chief of intelligence Senussi is still “held” in Mauritania and Aziz says he will not be released until he stands trial for illegal entry. Until that fabled day, he is valuable ante for Mauritania in a game with France, who say they want him to serve a life sentence issued in absentia, and Libya, who could try him as part of the former regime. I imagine him enjoying the sort of 5-star hospitality Mubarak had during his sejourn. Certainly I doubt that he is under torture. Sadly, the same is not true for 5 youths arrested in a small southern town near Selibaby, who were subjected to Guantanamo-style “jaguar” torture methods while detained on suspicion of a minor burglary of a local store on July 23. Three of the youths were jailed, and the other two released without charge. One of those released is now suffering memory loss and needs hospital treatment.

Armed guards provide crowd control for Aziz speech

On Sunday 5 August, president Aziz hosted a “Meet the People” event in Atar. Thousands waiting in the heat of the night for his midnight appearance, watched over by armed plain-clothed security and assembled media representatives. The coordination of oppostion parties was conspicuous in its absence. Not surprising since they all signed a pledge on Friday 4th August to continue to demand Aziz step down, and refusing to entertain any dialogue, or elections, as long as he remains in power. Aziz responded on Monday 6th August, saying he would not leave except though the ballot box. Not so much absent as invisible, the audience was dominated by Arab Moors. Black Moors, Haratines, and those of black African heritage were present – in servile roles cleaning, preparing, serving food and of course staffing security.

Police [anti] graffiti efforts

Opposition campaigners were in action the night before, and police were tasked with removing the graffiti which had been liberally applied to walls, signs, and even state vehicles. The photos of police in action (left) make them look a little bit like perpetrators!
None of these interesting anecdotes merited comment on Ould Abdel Aziz’ new Twitter account (using Hootsuite) or Facebook page (no link – but trust me, you’re not missing much), which were created after a meagre effort via iPad by one of his cronies, Sidi Mohamed Maham. Sidi’s task was to engage with “the young people”, confiding how he had “just been speaking with the president”, who told him “his door is open to anyone who wants to talk”. The boring foray into Twitter immediately spawned a more entertaining mirror using the new hashtag coined for his Atar speech. FaceBook is still the most popular platform by far, but Twitter is seeing increased activity thanks to a useful Arabic guide produced by the Mauritanie Demain FaceBook page admins. There was a sustained flurry of angry tweets shooting down each lie as soon as it was uttered. Aziz provided plenty of ammunition: there is no slavery, just poverty, and that is being eradicated, there’s no drought, there are no political prisoners, there is no repression, he was right to cross into Malian territory in pursuit of suspected terrorists, there is a balance of payments surplus, everything is wonderful, and so on. While taking questions by phone, a caller who made a criticism was cut off mid-sentence and Aziz declared the caller had “decided to end the call himself”. When the TV broadcast was disrupted, instead of just blaming a technical error or electrical power issue, Aziz claimed the opposition were responsible, and had bought sophisticated electronic equipment for the purpose.
Aziz also spoke proudly of the importance of Mauritanian media and the “freedomof the press”. Only seven media outlets were invited to attend, and even they had a hard time. The photographer from alakhbar.info was detained by presidential guards [ar], who erased all his images, presumably because he had filmed some protesters. At least Al Jazeera managed to get in a question: their reporter asked if Aziz would be the first Arab leader to step down peacefully. I understand his response was in the negative.
As happened last year, activists were highly motivated against this Aziz speech, with at least two FaceBook events, teams coordinating the sharing of information between different social networks, and many amusing – and angry – posts and images that are so characteristic of Mauritanian youth. There was a protest outside the TV station HQ in Nouakchott and a brave protester who called for Aziz to quit after the speech [ar] in Atar (and was immediately arrested). Sunday night was also the anniversary of the historic “Battle of Badr”, and this coincidence generated much commentary about the president’s son, Badr, and the incident where he shot a young girl while out joyriding late one night but got off with a token fine. By all accounts she is still paralysed.
There was another serious note to some of the objections being voiced: Aziz had chosen the home town of the slain mining worker Mohamed Ould Machdhoufi for his political carnival.

Poster art from an anti-Aziz event on FaceBook