(Updates with top AU diplomat's comments, paragraphs 9, 13-14)
By Hachem Sidi Salem and Gabriela Matthews
NOUAKCHOTT Aug 24 The military coup that
toppled Mauritanian President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi
this month threatens the future of democracy in Africa if left
unchallenged, the deposed president's son said on Sunday.
In an interview with Reuters in Nouakchott, Abdallahi's
youngest son Ahmed said he believed his father would eventually
be restored to power by pressure from within Mauritania and from
the international community, which has cut millions of dollars
of aid following the Aug. 6 coup in the West Saharan state.
"I've no doubt that he'll return, it could take 15 days, it
could take a month, but there's no doubt that this country can't
live without economic aid," Ahmed Ould Sidi Ould Cheikh
He complained that the coup leaders were preventing members
of Abdallahi's family from visiting the toppled president, who
has been kept in detention since the latest military takeover in
the country that became Africa's newest oil producer in 2006.
President Abdallahi, Mauritania's first freely elected head
of state, was deposed by officers led by the chief of his own
presidential guard, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, barely 15
months after he took office after winning elections.
That vote was organised after a 2005 coup -- also instigated
by Abdel Aziz -- which toppled authoritarian ruler Maaouya Ould
Sid'Ahmed Taya, who had taken power in a coup 20 years earlier.
The Aug. 6 coup followed Abdallahi's sacking of senior
military officers, including Abdel Aziz, who were widely seen as
supporting the president's opponents. Abdel Aziz says he took
over because Abdallahi had shown poor leadership.
The African Union has suspended Mauritania after the coup,
which has also been strongly condemned by the United Nations,
the European Union and the United States.
The AU's top permanent official, Jean Ping, flew into
Mauritania later on Sunday to hold talks with the coup leaders
and with supporters of Abdallahi. Ping told Reuters he had come
"to listen" and had not brought any "miracle solutions".
Abdallahi's son Ahmed called the coup and his father's
detention "an act of piracy".
"We're looking at a military coup d'etat in the full sense
of the word," he said.
"The future of democracy in Africa is at stake. If this coup
is allowed to stand -- and it won't be -- then all the
democracies in Africa are entirely threatened," he added.
AU SEEKS SOLUTIONS
Ping, who heads the AU Commission, was expected to press the
coup leaders to release Abdallahi, but he declined to spell out
beforehand exactly what message he would convey to them.
"We haven't come to apply threats, we've come to discuss and
seek solutions," he said on his arrival in Nouakchott.
Abdallahi's son Ahmed said his father was not being allowed
either telephone calls or visits by members of his family.
"Speaking as a son, I know that a president shouldn't be
treated like that, it's against common law because even
terrorists and common prisoners can be visited by their family,"
he said, adding he had contacted the International Committee of
the Red Cross about gaining access to his father.
"I think he's in good health," he added, citing reports from
the French foreign ministry and media. France's ambassador was
allowed to see the detained Abdallahi on Thursday.
The coup leaders are also holding former Prime Minister
Yahya Ould Ahmed El Waghef, who was deposed along with
Abdallahi, after El Waghef last week led a big protest march
against the military coup.
Thousands of Mauritanians took part on Wednesday in the
largest public protest ever seen in the Islamic state, which
straddles black and Arab Africa and besides oil has rich
fisheries stocks and also produces iron ore and gold.
But Abdel Aziz's backers have organised a series of rallies
in support of the coup, and a majority of parliamentarians have
thrown their weight behind the junta.
Abdallahi's son said the reduction of foreign aid could
worsen the situation of the poor inhabitants, who had already
been feeling the squeeze of soaring food and fuel prices.
"I think the country will now unfortunately live through
some difficult times," he said.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/)
(Writing by Pascal Fletcher)