Tunisia police tear gas Islamists protesting “blasphemous” film and niqab ban

By Reuters Staff
October 9, 2011

(Protesters run for cover during riots in front of the main university campus in Tunis October 9, 2011/Zoubeir Souissi)

Police in Tunis used tear gas on Sunday to try to disperse hundreds of Islamists who were attacking them with stones, knives and batons, the biggest clashes over religion in the Tunisian capital for several years. Tension is mounting before an election later this month, the first since a revolution toppled Tunisia’s autocratic leader, that will pit Islamists free to express their beliefs for the first time against secularists who say their liberal values are under threat.

The Islamists were protesting against a ban on women who wear the niqab, or full-face veil, enrolling in university, and the decision by a Tunisian television station to broadcast animated film “Persepolis” which they said denigrated Islam. Several hundred protesters gathered outside the main university campus in Tunis, and from there went to the working-class neighborhood of Jebel El-Ahmar, north of the city center, where the clashes with police broke out.

About 100 police vehicles, and several hundred police officers wearing anti-riot gear were deployed. A Reuters reporter said he saw officers running to escape the protesters. The mainly young protesters blocked a main road and threw stones at vehicles trying to get through. They shouted: “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and “We will die for Allah!”

Tunisians will vote in an October 23 election for an assembly to draft a new constitution. The Islamist Ennahda party is expected to win the biggest share of the vote, alarming secularists who have traditionally dominated the ruling elite.

Read the full story by Tarek Amara here.

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