Riot police in Mauritania have fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters angry with a visit from Israel's foreign minister. The mostly Muslim desert nation is just one of three Arab league countries, with Egypt and Jordan, to have diplomatic ties with Israel.

At a university campus and in front of the interior ministry in the capital Nouakchott, the anti-Israeli chants were the same.

Despite the tear gas, the protesters kept coming back.

One student says Israel is not a friend of Arab nations because of what he called aggressive policies in the region, so he says an Israeli visit is not welcome.

Silvan Shalom
Protest organizer Cheik-Baye Ould Dowla tells VOA he does not understand why Mauritania has ties with Israel. He says the protests will continue throughout the visit by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

His arrival time and exact schedule were kept secret to avoid disruptive protests.

Anti-Israeli slogans were scrawled on the walls of schools throughout the city.

News of the visit prompted similar protests last week, and the arrest of 30 organizers. The government accused them of working alongside terrorists, charges those detained have denied.

They allege Mauritania's government is courting Israel and the United States to get anti-terrorism funds and training it then uses to crack down on an Islamic-based opposition. President Maaouiya Ould Taya took power in a coup in 1984 and has maintained himself in the country's top spot through elections widely viewed as rigged. He has survived numerous coup plots.

Last year, the U.S. government organized anti-terror training in Mauritania and other nearby countries in a mostly uncontrolled region. Terrorist groups have already been operational in countries to the north, like Algeria.

In a radio address, just before his departure, Israel's foreign minister hailed Mauritania for maintaining full diplomatic relations, despite internal pressure and the start of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, just one year after ties were established.

Israel's ambassador to Mauritania said the visit showed both countries were committed to the relationship.

Egypt and Jordan, the only other two Arab league nations with official ties to Israel, withdrew their ambassadors in Israel at the start of the intifada, but Mauritania did not.