Tunisian police clash with Islamists in Tunis, Kairouan | News | DW | 19.05.2013
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Tunisian police clash with Islamists in Tunis, Kairouan

Tunisian police have clashed with radical Islamists in a Tunis neighborhood, after Salafist movement Ansar al-Sharia told its followers to gather for its annual congress. The move defied a government ban.

Hundreds of Salafists erected barricades in the streets of Ettadhamen, a poor neighborhood on the western edge of Tunis on Sunday. The crowd threw rocks at police, who fired tear gas canisters at the demonstrators.

One protestor has been killed in the skirmishes, according to Tunisia's state news agency. The AFP news agency has reported that 11 police and three protestors have been injured.

The area saw clashes last week between the Salafists and Tunisian security forces, as they moved to stop the extremists from setting up tents from which to preach and disseminate their ideas.

Clashes also took place in Kairouan, the historic religious city south of Tunis, where the annual congress had been due to take place before it was banned on security grounds. Security forces were deployed en masse to prevent Salafists defying the ban.

Facebook used to rally protestors

The hard-line Islamist group used its official Facebook page to call members to protest in Ettadhamen, a Salafist stronghold. The announcement came after security forces set up checkpoints in and around Kairouan to prevent the congress taking place.

Ansar al-Sharia's spokesman Seifeddine Rais said last week that he expected more than 40,000 people to attend this year's annual congress, which had been planned for 1500 GMT.

Rais was arrested at dawn on Sunday, for what police described as "provocation."

Salafists advocate an ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam, and Ansar al-Sharia does not recognize the authority of the state.

The leader of Ansar al-Shariah, Seifallah Ben Hassine is wanted for his involvement in an attack on the US Embassy in September last year and his followers have been accused of attacking art galleries, police stations and cinemas.

The robust response to the conference by security forces is unprecedented since the 2011 overthrow of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who presided over a police state.

Tunisia's opposition says the government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, has been too lax in dealing with attacks by ultraconservative Muslims.

ch/kms (AFP, AP)