Mauritania's army said on Wednesday it had seized power to end the 'totalitarian' regime of President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya, who is out of the country, and planned to rule for up to two years.
The 53-nation African Union said it condemned all seizure of power by force and Taya's PRDS party urged all political forces to denounce the coup, but in the capital hundreds of people took to the streets, shouting and honking car horns in celebration.
Convoys of cars with people hanging out of them shouting 'Praise Be to God' and making victory signs paraded down one of Nouakchott's main sand-blanketed avenues.
I have been doing a bit of reading on Mauritania this morning, trying to figure out what this will mean.
Mauritania has been an ally in the war on terror, and has diplomatic relations with Israel. Despite that though, it has been a fairly repressive dictatorship (technically it holds elections, but they cannot be described as free or fair) and Taya has used Islamic extremism as an excuse for targetting and quelling domestic opposition, similar to Uzbekistan.
In many ways this coup shows the dangers of friendship with such a regime. Despite the usefulness of Mauritania as an ally, and I don't doubt it has been useful, there is now a very real risk that Mauritania will effectively become a supporter of terror and be far more dangerous than it has ever been useful.
The leaders of the coup claim that they will rule for a maximum of two years, during which time they will set up genuine democratic institutions. Seldom do such promises actually come to pass, but if they are sincere in this I wish them well, and feel that we should support them.
I will keep my eye on this for a bit. It is difficult at this time to gain any feeling for the nature of the coup leaders to determine what sort of people they are.