By Sheikh Bekaye Associated Press Writer
Dec 12. 2003
NOUAKCHOTT, Dec 12 (AP) – Mauritania’s top opposition politician pleaded innocent on Tuesday to charges of plotting to overthrow the leadership of this U.S.-allied, Islamic republic _ accusations that could mean life in jail and decades at hard labor.
Security forces in the west African nation arrested Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla just two days after Mauritania’s Nov7. presidential elections.
The vote saw President Maaoya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya resoundingly re-elected in a vote labeled fraudulent by the opposition.
Prosecutors charged Haidalla, a former military dictator overthrown by Taya
in 1984, with plotting to oust his longtime foe.
On Tuesday, Haidalla appeared in court in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott, to reject the accusations.
“I decided to be a candidate for the recent elections in order to put an end to this regime,” Haidalla declared. “If this is a coup plot, I did it.”
Government prosecutors also accused Haidalla of accepting US$1 million in campaign funds from Libya
This is a lie,” he said of assertions that his son, also on trial, funneled him the cash. “I give him money. He does not give me money
If convicted, Haidalla and 14 alleged conspirators face life in prison and between 10 and 20 years at hard labor including smashing rocks and constructing buildings
The trial could end as soon as this weekend
Mauritania, an Islamic republic straddling Arab and African worlds on the edge of the Sahara, has never experienced a peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960.
Taya held presidential elections in 1992 and 1997, but the opposition said both votes were deeply flawed
Officials announced Taya won the November balloting with 67 percent of the
vote to Haidalla’s 18 percent in a field of five
Haidalla seized power in 1981
In June, Taya survived the latest of several coup attempts, which brought two days of fighting in the capital
Some in his government blamed Islamic fundamentalists opposed to Taya’s Western leaning