After winning independence from France in 1969, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania annexed what is now Western Sahara, but was forced to cede the territory in response to repeated guerilla raids. After a coup in 1984 unseated the existing government, steps were taken to broaden political power. Although a free election was held in 2001, a bloodless coup in 2005 transferred power to a military government that pledged to move Mauritania toward democracy and away from the autocracy that still exists.

With a per capita income of $2,000, Mauritania is ranked 182nd in world incomes. Half of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, although less than one percent of land area is arable. One-fifth of Mauritanians are unemployed.

Forty percent of the people in Mauritania live below ...

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