Supporters of hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia clashed with Tunisian police in two cities on Sunday after the government banned its annual rally and group urged its supporters to stand firm against the authorities.
Violence broke out in the central city of Kairouan, venue of the planned rally, and in a district of Tunis.
Clashes between police forces and Salafists left a 27-year-old Tunisian dead, three protesters and 11 officers wounded, according to media reports.
In Kairouan, around 11,000 police officers and soldiers blocked an annual conference Sunday where tens of thousands of members of Ansar al-Sharia had been expected to gather. The group's supporters threw stones at police, who fired teargas in response.
Police also prevented the group, which openly supports alQaeda, from holding a smaller religious meeting in the Ettadamen district of the capital Tunis. Clashes broke out with Islamists who chanted: “The rule of the tyrant should fall.”
Police fired teargas and shots into the air to disperse some 500 stone-throwing protesters, some of whom set fire to cars, lowered the Tunisian flag and replaced it with a black al Qaeda banner.
“We call on our brothers to gather in large numbers in the Ettadhamen district of the capital,” the hardline Islamist group said on its Facebook page.
Tunisia has been rocked by attacks blamed on militant Islamists since the uprising that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Ansar al-Sharia is considered the most radical of the extremist groups that emerged after the 2011 revolution.
The government has hardened its position towards Islamist extremists in recent months, after the moderate Islamist party Ennahda was strongly criticized for being too lenient and failing to prevent a wave of violence around the country.
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