Tunisian police clash with supporters of Salafist group
One person was killed on Sunday as Tunisian police clashed with supporters of Ansar al-Sharia in Kairouan and the suburbs of Tunis. Hundreds of followers of the hard-line Islamist group were protesting a government ban on their annual congress.
Supporters of the hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia clashed with Tunisian police in Kairouan and a Tunis suburb on Sunday, leaving one person dead in the wake of a government ban on the group’s annual rally due to security concerns.
The annual congress, expected to have drawn tens of thousands of members, was to have been held in the central city of Kairouan. But Tunisian authorities announced Friday that the meeting would not be allowed to go ahead and deployed security forces to the area to prevent the Salafists from gathering.
Ansar al-Sharia, which openly supports al Qaeda, is considered the most radical of the hardline Islamist groups to emerge in Tunisia since a 2011 revolution overthrew secular dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Organisers later called on Ansar al-Sharia supporters to gather in Tunis’ Ettadhamen district instead.
"We call on our brothers to gather in large numbers in the Ettadhamen district of the capital," the hardline Islamist group said on its official Facebook page.
"Our congress is being held in Ettadhamen," senior Ansar al-Sharia member Sami Essid confirmed to AFP.
The announcement of the venue change came after the security forces deployed heavily in and around Kairouan, with checkpoints set up at entrances to the city and special units positioned in the square facing the Okba Ibn Nafaa mosque where the congress was to be held.
The Interior Ministry said Friday it had banned the group from meeting because it “has shown distain for state institutions, incited violence against them and poses a threat to public security”.
Hardline Islamist Salafists are seeking a broader role for religion in Tunisian politics -- a prospect that alarms the secular elite, which fears the imposition of a strict interpretation of Islam would compromise individual freedoms, women’s rights and democratic ideals.
Tunisian police suspected a Salafist was behind the February assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid. Belaid’s death provoked Tunisia’s worst political crisis and its biggest protests since the overthrow of Ben Ali.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)