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Black Mauritanians protest 'racist' census

Hundreds of black Mauritanians protested on Monday for the third day against a census they claim is aimed at depriving them of their nationality. They also demanded the release of demonstrators who have been arrested.


AFP - Hundreds of black Mauritanians rallied against a census they see as racist for the third day Monday, demanding the release of people arrested in earlier protests that turned violent, sources said.

Dia Gando, a spokesman for the protestors, told AFP from the southern city of Kaedi, that demonstrators had burned tyres in the streets, but said their protest was peaceful and police did not immediately intervene.

Gando said 27 people had been arrested on Saturday and Sunday when the demonstrations organised by a movement which calls itself "Don't touch my nationality" turned violent.

In Kaedi, a city of about 60,000, hundreds took to the streets Saturday, sacking a courthouse and stores before setting fire to them.

Angry protesters shouted slogans hostile to President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, witnesses said.

On Sunday, Gando said, police cracked down on a second rally and demonstrators responded by setting fire to police vehicles.

The census is "solely aimed at depriving black Mauritanians of their citizenship", another spokesman of the protest movement, Wane Birane, said.

The group cited "unpleasant questions posed to black Africans" on their knowledge of the country and the low representation of their community in panels supervising the census.

Over the past months, authorities have conducted the nationwide census to get a modern, secure, biometrics-based population count to replace the current one which many view as "unreliable and subject to falsification".

The government has launched a media campaign to deny what it calls false rumours, and "to reassure the people that they will all be registered, without restrictions," the official in charge of the drive, M'Rabih Rabbou, has said.

Mauritania has a multi-ethnic population of around three million made up of white and black Moors as well as various black African tribes.

The large west African nation has a long history of inter-ethnic conflicts.

A government source said the authorities wanted to ensure the security of the city while negotiating with the leaders of the protestors to bring peace.

The source said Interior Minister Mohamed Ould Beilil had held talks with the heads of the protest movement in Nouakchott on Sunday and more talks were scheduled for Monday

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