Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has responded defiantly to an opposition boycott of this month's presidential election, calling for "100 percent" turnout in a vote he is widely expected to win. Abdel Aziz has urged "everyone to come out and vote" in the June 21 election, since campaigning began last week.
He criticised the boycott by what he called the "radical" opposition, accusing its members of "bringing the country to its knees". Aziz, an ex-army general who took control of the former French colony in a 2008 coup before being elected a year later, said those seeking a boycott "refuse to acknowledge the great progress made for poor Mauritanians" in recent years. Mauritania's opposition National Forum for Democracy and Unity, a loose collection of lawmakers including Islamists and civil society activists, announced on Tuesday its intention to snub the vote.
The coalition has vowed to ramp up protests against what it calls a "sham" election and what it sees as Aziz's despotic rule. Mauritania, a mainly Muslim republic between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert, is viewed as strategically important by the West in the fight against Al-Qaeda-linked groups within its own borders, in neighbouring Mali and across Africa's Sahel region. Four candidates, including an anti-slavery campaigner and Mauritania's second ever female presidential hopeful, are running against hot favourite Abdel Aziz.