Ansar al-Sharia supporter dies after Tunis police clash; 14 injured

May 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM
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TUNIS, Tunisia, May 20 (UPI) -- An Ansar al-Sharia supporter died of injuries he sustained during fighting between police and militants in a Tunis neighborhood, Tunisian officials said.

Eleven police officers and three protesters were hurt in the fighting Sunday between security forces and supporters of Ansar al-Sharia, an organization that advocates implementation of strict Sharia, or religious, law, Tunisia's official TAP news agency reported.

Police fired tear gas to disperse militants in two cities after the government banned Ansar al-Sharia from staging its annual congress Sunday, Voice of America reported.

The assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid in February started Tunisia's largest demonstration since its 2011 revolution -- the spark for the "Arab Spring" that moved across Northern Africa and the Middle East. Police blamed a Salafist Muslim for Belaid's death.

Hatem Ben Salem, a minister during the regime of ousted ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, told VOA he was alarmed by recent events in his country, blaming the ruling moderate Ennahda Party for not cracking down on the Salafists.

"The whole country fears that we will engage in a civil war. And that is why I think the government is now taking things quite seriously," he said, "although I think they are responsible for the situation, because they have let these people do what they want ... and threaten the country like they do."

Economist and opposition politician Mahmoud Ben Romthane said he doesn't believe terrorism grips Tunisia, pointing to the country's tradition as a moderate nation.

Ben Romthane said the answer lies in moving forward politically and ensuring that elections at the end of the year are free and transparent, VOA reported.

Ben Salem said he believes Tunisia needs a unity government joined in the common cause of eliminating Islamic extremism.

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