Polls Close, Counting Begins in Mauritania

The polls in Mauritania’s presidential election have closed and officials are counting ballots in a vote that seeks to restore constitutional order.

Long lines formed at polling centers in parts of Mauritania Saturday, less than a year after the country’s first freely elected leader was ousted in a coup.

Nine candidates are vying for the presidency, including General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who led the coup that overthrew former President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi last August.

General Aziz ran as a candidate for the poor, and is considered a favorite to win. His challengers included opposition leader Ahmed Ould Dadah, who finished second in Mauritania’s 2007 election, and former military junta leader Ely Mohamed Vall.

Observers from each candidate’s campaign are watching as officials empty ballot boxes and tally votes.

Initial results are expected early Sunday.

More than 250 electoral observers from the Arab League and African Union are in the northwest African nation to monitor the vote. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will face off in a second round of balloting on August 1.

After casting his vote, Mr. Vall called the election an important challenge. He said voters must decide if they want Mauritania to emerge from what he called a very grave crisis.

Hours before the election, police engaged in a shootout with gunmen, detaining two men thought to be linked to al-Qaida. Police say the men may be the same ones responsible for the murder of American teacher Christopher Leggett.

Leggett worked for an aid group that provided computer classes for local residents.

Al-Qaida’s North African branch claimed responsibility, saying it killed Leggett because he tried to convert Muslims to Christianity.



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