NOUAKCHOTT: A student was killed in protests in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott in the early hours of Monday, a hospital source said, as hundreds took to the streets to protest against an alleged desecration of the Koran.
The man, a literature student at the University of Nouakchott, according to the source, died as police struggled to contain demonstrators demanding the arrest of a group they accused of seizing copies of the text from a mosque.
A local government source confirmed the death but said the circumstances and cause were yet to be clarified.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered to march on the presidential palace and were shouting slogans inluding “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for “God is greatest” – and “death to the criminal desecrators” when they were dispersed by police using tear gas, an AFP reporter witnessed.
The violence began after four people dressed in turbans were reported to have driven to a mosque in the north of Nouakchott and taken copies of the Koran to destroy.
One of them “took four copies of the Koran which he shredded before throwing them in the toilet,” the local imam told AFP.
Several sources told AFP there had been a number of arrests and people wounded, without being able to give figures.
The protests spread to smaller settlements across the west African nation including the towns of Kiffa and Aioun, local media reported.
The Koran, the holy book of Islam, is treated with great reverence by Muslims and its desecration can cause grave offence in deeply-conservative Mauritania.
The country operates Sharia law courts but the death penalty has not been applied for blasphemy since the 1980s.
A young Muslim is facing a possible death sentence after being convicted in January of apostasy and jailed for having written an article criticizing the prophet Mohammed.
In February a man was arrested and sent for psychiatric evaluation after urinating on a Koran in northern Mauritania.