Tunis march against Islamists, for harmony after Polish priest murdered

February 20, 2011
tunis secular

(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

About 15,000 demonstrators have protested in Tunis against the country’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish Catholic priest had been murdered by an extremist group.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans on Saturday including “Terrorism is not Tunisian” and “Religion is Personal”.

Tunisia’s Islamist movement has shown signs of organising since the overthrow of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had surpressed them during his more than two decades of rule, and have pressured authorities to shut at least three brothels in recent weeks.

tunis funeral

(Tunis Catholic Archbishop Maroun Lahham blesses a photograph of Fr. Marek Rybinski during Mass at the cathedral of Tunis February 20, 2011/Anis Mili)

The Polish priest was murdered in the Tunisian capital on Friday, state media cited the Interior Ministry as saying, the latest sign of rising religious tension since last month’s revolution.

Fr. Marek Rybinski was found dead at the School of Our Lady in Manouba where he worked, Tunisia Africa Press reported. His throat had been cut. The school is run by the Salesian order of priests. The Polish section of the Salesians said on their website he was 34 years old and had worked in Tunisia since 2007. They also said the priests at the school had received a death threat in an anonymous letter on January 31.

“The Ministry of the Interior condemns this act and regrets the death. Based on results of the preliminary investigation, including the method of assassination, it believes a group of terrorist fascists with extremist tendencies was behind this crime,” the ministry said.

“These extremists are taking advantage of an exceptional situation to disturb national security and plunge our country into violence,” the ministry statement said. It did not say what form of extremism it suspected.

The Islamist campaign against brothels prompted security forces to fire into the air to disperse hundreds of Islamists protesting against one in Tunis on Friday, witnesses said. At least three people were injured.

At least three people were injured on Friday when Tunisian security forces fired in the air to disperse hundreds of Islamists protesting against a brothel in the capital Tunis, witnesses said. Tunisia, a strictly secularist state under Ben Ali, is the only Arab country with legal prostitution.

tunis muslim girl

(A Tunisian Muslim girl places flowers before a photograph of murdered Fr. Marek Rybinski at the Catholic cathedral of Tunis February 20, 2011S/Anis Mili)

“Almost 500 Islamists, many wearing beards, were demonstrating in Old Medina to demand the closure of a brothel,” said Mourad Barhoumi, a Tunis resident who witnessed the demonstration. “There were several dozen riot police who shut off entry to the neighbourhood. They fired in the air to break up the crowd, which didn’t want to go until the brothel was shut,” he said, adding that three people were injured.

A second witness at the demonstration confirmed the details to Reuters by phone, but asked not to be named. The demonstrators later dispersed after a military official announced that the brothel had been shut, he said.
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