Mauritania insists on census despite death
NOUAKCHOTT - Mauritanian said Tuesday it would pursue a controversial census in the country, which is fiercely opposed by members of its black community, even as protests claimed a first fatality.
"The government will ... take the necessary time to allow all Mauritanians to register and get secure documents," Interior Minister Mohamed Ould Boilil said in a radio and television address.
A security official earlier said police shot dead one man and wounded several others Tuesday while dispersing an anti-census rally.
Critics claim the census discriminates against black people, but Ould Boilil insisted it was aimed at giving Mauritania "a modern and trustworthy biometric register.
"Therefore, nobody will be allowed to disturb the peace."
The demonstrator was shot and killed when police tried to disperse people protesting the census in the town of Maghama in the south of the country, an official said on condition of anonymity.
The protesters "started by setting fire to the government offices" responsible for carrying out the census "before marching on the gendarmerie's premises," he said.
The source added that a small number of police "felt threatened and shot into the air and then into the crowd," explaining the sequence leading to the casualties.
Black Mauritanians have rallied against the census for weeks, condemning it as racist.
A spokesman for the protest movement, Wane Birane, has said it was "solely aimed at depriving black Mauritanians of their citizenship".
Over the past months, officials 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, which includes 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.