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Mauritania's three main ethnic groups

Government Bans Opposition Party

January 3, 2002

The Mauritanian Human Rights Association on Thursday condemned the banning by Mauritania's government of the opposition Action pour le changement (AC-Action for Change) which, media organisations say, champions the rights of ex-slaves and other black Mauritanians.

The Association called on the government to review the measure, which it described as "anti-democratic', and urged civil society and the international community to intervene.

The ban, decided at a cabinet meeting, resulted from a report by Interior Minister Cheyakh Ould Ely, which said the party's activities were harmful to national unity and incited intolerance, state-owned Radio Mauritanie reported on Wednesday.

AC leader Messaoud Ould Belkheir denied the accusations. BBC reported him as saying that the ban was "a typical example of the absence of democracy under a dictatorial regime that does not tolerate opinions opposed to its own". AC is the third party to have been banned by the Mauritanian government in two years.

AC's actions, BBC reported Ould Belkheir as saying, were in response to slavery which, according to human rights groups, still exists in Mauritania although it has been officially banned.

Mauritania's people are made up of three main groups: 'white' Moors; their former slaves and the latter's descendants, who are known as Haratin or 'black' Moors; and other black Africans belonging to ethnic groups also found in neighbouring Mali and Senegal.

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