[map of Mauritania] Ancient name of the northwestern angle of the African continent, was a great corn-producing region. In the first century B.C. it was an organized state and was divided later into two kingdoms which received additional territory in return for aid given to Julius Caesar. In 25 B.C. they were given to Juba II of Numidia; in A.D. 42 annexed to the Roman empire by Claudius and divided into two provinces. In the Notitia nearly 110 episcopal sees were mentioned there. Parts of Mauretania never became Roman. It regained its political autonomy during the Vandal period; a native dynasty was set up and escaped conquest by the Byzantine Army. The ecclesiastical province lasted from the 4th century to the Arab invasion of the 7th. When it became Islamized, it became the center of their propaganda among the Berbers of the Sudan, Sahara, and Atlas. The name was given to a colony of French West Africa. It gained independent from France in 1960. The entire country was placed within the diocese of Nouakchott on 18 September 1965. Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976, but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory. Opposition parties were legalized and a new constitution approved in 1991. Though October 2001 legislative and municipal elections were generally free and open, Mauritania is effectively a one-party state with strong ethnic tensions between its black population and the Maur (Arab-Berber) populace.
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