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28.11.2019 Mauritania

Mauritanian leader promises 500 mln euros in anti-poverty drive

By Hademine OULD SADI
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani at his swearing-in ceremony on August 1.  By Seyllou (afp/AFP)
NOV 28, 2019 MAURITANIA
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani at his swearing-in ceremony on August 1. By Seyllou (afp/AFP)

Mauritania's president has pledged the equivalent of 500 million euros ($550 million) to fight poverty ahead of a key state anniversary, after coming to power four months ago on vows to help the poor.

In remarks broadcast on the eve of Thursday's independence celebrations, Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani said the sum, which will be allocated over five years, would fund a specialised anti-poverty agency.

The former general took office in August, in the first transition of power between two elected leaders in the West African state's history.

He swept to a first-round victory in elections on June 22 on pledges to strengthen the military and attack poverty.

Mauritania ranks among the poorest countries in the world despite rich deposits of gold, iron and copper.

On top of the money for the anti-poverty agency, Ghazouani promised the government would offer "free legal assistance" to the destitute in Wednesday evening's broadcast.

About 33 percent of Mauritanians lived below the poverty line of $1.90 (1.7 euros) a day in 2014, according to the World Bank, compared to 44.5 percent in 2008.

But poverty remains endemic in the capital Nouakchott, the bank said, and women and children are marginalised.

Vast and mostly desert, the conservative nation has suffered a string of military coups in its history, with the latest occurring in 2008.

The leader of the 2008 putsch, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won elections in 2009 and again in 2014, and was suspected by opposition leaders of wanting to stay for a third term.

However, he decided instead to pass the baton to his longtime ally Ghazouani.

Annual festivities commemorating Mauritanian self-rule take place in a different place each year.

Thursday's celebration -- marking 59 years of independence -- was held in Akjoujt, a gold-rich town in the west of the country which is also the birthplace of Aziz.

Aziz was notably absent, however. He and Ghazouani are rumoured to have fallen out.

Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi -- the ex-president deposed in the 2008 coup -- was present.

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