NOUAKCHOTT Hundreds of protesters threw stones and chanted anti-government slogans in Mauritania's capital on Monday after local media reported Korans were desecrated in a mosque.
A young man was killed during the protests after apparently being hit by an exploding teargas canister, a hospital source told Reuters.
Police fended off a large crowd bound for the presidential palace shortly after midnight, a Reuters witness said. Some members of the crowd shouted "the president is an unbeliever" while others cried out "we will die for Allah".
Mauritania, a country of 3.2 million people which straddles black and Arab Africa, has seen several pro-Islam protests in recent months led by those who feel the current government does not represent their ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
Some protesters have sought the death sentence for a young man who wrote a pamphlet seen as critical of the Prophet Mohammad.
Local media reported that on Sunday night four people entered a mosque in the Teyaret neighborhood and tore up Korans and threw them on the floor. It was not immediately clear who was behind that attack or what their motive was.
Communications Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham called for protesters to return home at a news conference on Monday.
Signs of growing religious conservatism coincide with the rise of Islamic party Tawassoul, which in December became the main opposition party after legislative polls.
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who has been an ally of the west in its battle against al Qaeda in the poor and unstable Sahel region, is up for re-election in June.
(Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Alison Williams)