Mauritania Guardsmen Stage Coup

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- Army officers staged a coup Wednesday in the sprawling desert nation of Mauritania, overthrowing the government and announcing a new junta that will be led by the head of the country's presidential guard.

The coup took place after the president and prime minister fired the country's top four military officials.

A brief announcement read over state television said the new "state council" would be led by presidential guard chief General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. It gave no other details.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who was elected last year, was being held by renegade soldiers at the presidential palace in Nouakchott, said presidential spokesman Abdoulaye Mamadouba. Soldiers also detained Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waqef, he said.

State radio and television went off air and witnesses said soldiers were deployed throughout the capital. No violence was immediately reported.

Straddling the western edge of the Sahara desert, Arab-dominated Mauritania, with a population of 3.4 million, has been wracked by more than 10 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1960.