Tunisia arrests 200 in Salafist crackdown, says PM

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Tunisian police arrested some 200 members of the hardline Islamist Ansar al-Sharia in weekend clashes that erupted after a ban on their congress, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said in remarks published on Monday.

"Those who have been arrested number 200," Larayedh said at the Doha Forum in the Gulf state of Qatar, quoted by the Arabic daily al-Hayat.

The Tunisian leader warned of firm action against Ansar al-Sharia, an organization that he said has links to and is involved in "terrorism."

"This group is engaged in violence, is opposed to the state and revolts" against the authorities, he said, according to Al-Hayat.

In response, "we will deal with extremism firmly, we will be rigid," said Larayedh, a former interior minister and member of the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

One protester was killed and 15 policemen wounded in the clashes that broke out in Tunis on Sunday after the authorities banned Ansar al-Sharia from staging their annual congress.

Meanwhile, the fugitive leader of Ansar al-Sharia, the radical Islamist group in Tunisia, said his supporters cannot be defeated despite their "persecution," in a recording posted online late Sunday after the bloody clashes with police.

In the five-minute message, apparently taped before Sunday's violence in which one protester was killed and at least 15 police wounded, Abu Iyadh addresses the annual congress of his Salafist movement that the authorities banned on security grounds.

"God knows well that I would like to have been with you at the moment when you opened a shining page in the history of our nation. You have shown the entire world that your efforts cannot be defeated despite the persecution of your leaders," he said.

The audio recording by Ansar al-Sharia's leader, a former al-Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan whose real name is Saif Allah Bin Hussein, was posted on the group's Facebook page.

Abu Iyadh has been on the run since September, after an attack by Islamist protesters on the U.S. embassy in Tunis, which he is accused of orchestrating and which left four assailants dead.

The Salafists' third annual congress was to be held on Sunday in the holy city of Kairouan.