56 held in Mauritania over census protests

Nouakchott – Mauritanian police have arrested 56 people, including 13 foreigners, in Nouakchott during clashes over a census between the security forces and young blacks, the interior ministry said on Friday.

In a statement sent to AFP, the ministry said that the arrested foreigners “had a mission of organising the perpetrators of acts of vandalism and destruction of the property of citizens.”

It did not give their nationality.

“Privately-owned cars were burned and the windows of other cars were smashed,” the statement said, adding that “these acts of sabotage are unacceptable in a law-abiding state”.

“If it hadn’t been for the vigilance of the security forces, the damage would have been worse. The violence nearly reached domestic gas outlets and petrol stations,” the communique added.

The clashes on Thursday pitted the police against youths from the black minority who believe a census under way in the northwest African country is “racist” and “discriminatory.”

They argue that Negro-Mauritanians, mainly from the south, will be treated as second-class citizens.

The government of the largely Arabic-speaking nation has stated that it is trying to give the country a modern and accurate biometric census as a step on the way to reforms.

The clashes in the capital came two days after the death in the southern town of Maghama of a demonstrator hit by a bullet when paramilitary police dispersed a demonstration organised by the movement Don’t Touch My Nationality.

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