NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) — Mauritanian police on Thursday broke up a protest by hundreds of people against an army coup in the West African nation which has been internationally condemned despite a junta promise to hold new elections.
The European Union called for the release of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, the country's first democratically elected leader, and his prime minister who were detained after the army takeover on Wednesday.
The Arab League and African Union each expressed concern and sent missions to Nouakchott where a top official in Abdallahi's party said police fired tear gas to end the rally of around 200-300 people in support of the president.
"We wanted to organise a peaceful demonstration, our protesters were only armed with slogans and portraits of the president. The police stopped us by firing tear gas," party secretary general Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Dahmane said. One woman was injured in the protest.
Dahmane said his National Pact for Democracy and Development party had allied with three other parties to denounce the coup.
The president "is the one and only legitimate president" of the country, he said.
Earlier, around 1,000 people also marched through the capital in support of coup leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who seized control hours after being sacked as head of the presidential guard.
Pro-coup demonstrators marched alongside vehicles bearing giant portraits of the general and chanted "Aziz, Aziz" as they marched to the presidential palace.
Addressing the crowd at a rally outside the presidential palace at the end of the march, Abdel Aziz, flanked by members of the ruling junta, promised to solve the country's problems in his first public speech since taking control.
The junta promised to quickly hold new elections as it confronted international condemnation of Aballahi's detention.
The junta said in a statement it would "supervise the holding of presidential elections enabling the relaunch of the democratic process in the country and to reshape it on a perennial basis."
Abdallahi remained in custody Thursday at the headquarters of the presidential guard, according to a security source.
The prime minister, former interior minister and two other officials considered close to Abdallahi were also arrested, security sources said.
Abdallahi's wife and two sons, who were detained in the presidential palace during the coup, were allowed to return to their private home on Thursday afternoon, family members said.
The coup triggered international condemnation , with the United States urging the release of Mauritania's leaders and the EU threatening to cut off aid.
Washington also suspended more than 20 million dollars in non-humanitarian aid to Mauritania.
"At present, all non-humanitarian US foreign assistance is suspended and under review," said State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.
"This includes more than three million in development assistance, more than four million dollars in peacekeeping training, 805,000 dollars in nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, demining and related assistance, and 15 million dollars in military-to-military cooperation," he said.
But 4.9 million dollars in food aid will continue, Gallegos said.
The United States also froze aid under the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a program launched in 2004 by President George W. Bush that links development aid to good governance, he said.
"They had also been approved for a multi-million-dollar Millennium Challenge Corporation threshold program," Gallegos said.
"The amount, which I do not have a specific amount for at this time ... will be suspended for now," he said.
The European Commission said the president and prime minister must be released by the junta before any fresh elections.
"The current situation is unacceptable," commission spokesman John Clancy told reporters in Brussels.
EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said Wednesday that the coup had jeopardised EU cooperation and aid to the country. The EU has pledged 156 million euros (242 million dollars) to the North African nation up to 2013.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for "the restoration of constitutional order."
France warned those behind the coup that action could be taken against them unless there was a swift return to "constitutional legality," according to a statement issued by the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The African Union also called for maintaining "constitutional legality" and said its peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, would go to Mauritania. An Arab League delegation was due to go to Mauritania on Friday.
Habib Benyahya, the secretary general of the Arab Maghreb Union, an association formed by Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia to form common policies on a range of issues, meanwhile was received on Thursday by the head of the junta, according to a report by the Mauritanian AMI news agency.
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