Tunisians march against extremism after attack

Tunisian protesters shout slogans as they wave banners and their national flag during a demonstration on Bourguiba Avenue, capital of Tunis, March 20, 2015, during Independence Day celebrations marking the 58th anniversary of independence in Tunis. (Reuters)

Thousands of Tunisians set off on Sunday for a march "against terrorism" through the capital following the massacre of foreign tourists at the country's national museum.

Some 12,000 people were present for the start of the march, a police official said, with many waving Tunisian flags to chants of "Tunisia is free! Terrorism out!"

On March 18, two gunmen targeted the National Bardo Museum in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, dealing a severe blow to a country that was the cradle of the Arab Spring and is highly dependent on tourism.

The dead tourists were from Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Colombia, Australia, Britain, Belgium, Poland and Russia.

A Tunisian policeman was also gunned down. On Saturday the death toll rose to 22 after a Frenchwoman succumbed to injuries sustained in the attack.

The march is set to begin in Tunis at 1000 GMT, going from Bab Saadoun Square to the museum where a stone tablet will be dedicated to the memory of the victims.

The attack was “a big blow, but this blow did not kill us, it made us stronger”, Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi Rekik said on television on Saturday.

President Beji Caid Essebsi will host the foreign dignitaries including his counterparts from France, Francois Hollande, and Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, as well as the Palestinians' Mahmud Abbas.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Algeria's premier, Abdelmalek Sellal, as well as the foreign ministers of Spain, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, and the Netherlands, Bert Koenders, are also expected.

Essebsi called earlier in the week for a huge turnout for the march to the museum, which is due to reopen to the public on Monday.

The Bardo's doors were open on Friday to schoolchildren and students only, and an AFP journalist said bullet holes could still be seen on some of the walls inside.

“I was a little (scared) but now that we are here I can see that things are safe,” Lena Bottlender, a 17-year-old German student, told AFP.

Soumeya, a young Tunisian who visited on Friday, said she was “scared when she watched (the attacks on) the television”.

“We are here to show people that there is nothing to be afraid of,” she added.

Tunisia has seen an upsurge in Islamist extremism since overthrowing longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but has taken pride in forming a democratic government since the Arab Spring - in marked contrast to countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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