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Tunisian officials ban weekend demo against extremism

Demonstrators holding Tunisian flags shout slogans in front of Tunisia's central court buildings in Tunis (© 2009 AFP)

Tunisian interior ministry officials said Friday they had banned a demonstration against Salafist extremism planned for this weekend, raising the prospect of fresh clashes on the streets.

Activists using the Internet had called the protest for Saturday on the city’s main thoroughfare, avenue Habib Bourguiba.

But in a statement on its Facebook page, the interior ministry said the protest would be illegal because no one had asked for authorisation.

The ministry “reserved the right to react,” the statement added.

On April 9, a demonstration on the same avenue went ahead despite having been banned but was violently broken up by the security forces, provoking widespread anger.

At least 15 civilians and eight policemen were hurt in the unrest.

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh was summoned before parliament, and President Moncef Marzouki denounced the “unacceptable violence”.

One group of activists insisted that they had filed a request for Saturday’s “day of anger” on time.

The demonstration would be in response to violence last weekend in the northeast of the country, when radical Salafist groups attacked several police stations.

The ultra-conservative Salafists, some armed with clubs and swords, also burned down the shops of alcohol vendors who refused to close. They have been intensifying their attacks over the last 11 days.

On Thursday, responding to the attacks on the police stations, Larayedh warned that the police were authorised to use live rounds.

“Those who think that sovereign institutions such as police barracks can be attacked with impunity should know that in such cases the law authorises the use of live rounds,” the interior minister told reporters.

“The state of emergency is still in force and we will take all necessary steps to restore security in the country,” he added.

With the fall of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, secular liberals and radical Islamists have been in constant conflict over whose values should prevail in the country.

Moderate Tunisians have also expressed deep concern over the rising power of radical Salafists since the revolution that toppled Ben Ali’s regime.

The Salafist movement comprises several branches. Some adherents focus strictly on religion, some are politicians and some are jihadists who see violence as a legitimate means to impose their faith.

Researchers put the Salafists’ numbers at around 10,000.

Signature : TUNIS (AFP)

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