Map of Mauritania
Map of Mauritania

NOUAKCHOTT - Eight women were trampled to death in a stampede to receive alms being distributed by a charity in Mauritania ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, hospital sources and the event's organizer said on Thursday.

A large crowd had gathered on Wednesday to receive the equivalent of around $30 per person that was to be handed out by wealthy businessman Zeine Abidine Ould Cheikh Ahmed in the capital Nouakchott.

Mohamed Mahmoud Issa, the director of Ould Cheikh Ahmed's charity foundation, said that upon arriving at the scene he had gone in search of police reinforcements to control the crowd.

"It was on the way that we were informed by the police that the crowd of women had forced their way through the entrance," he said. A number of women fell to the ground during the crush and were trampled upon, witnesses said.

Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting, begins this week. Wednesday's charity distribution was meant to be an act of zakat, a form of alms-giving that constitutes one of the religion's five pillars.

Issa said that Ould Cheikh Ahmed, a well-known business figure in the West African nation where nearly a quarter of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day, had visited the victims of the stampede.

"He distributed the sum of 4 million ouguiyas (around $12,800) to each of the families of the eight dead and paid for the healthcare for the 20 injured, who have incidentally left the hospital today," he said.