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Tunisia quiet ahead of cancelled marches

TUNIS, Jun 15 – Public security in Tunisia was “normal throughout the country” ahead of Friday prayers, after which several religious groups had planned protest rallies, an interior ministry spokesman said.

At the last minute Thursday, fundamentalist Islamic groups and the moderate Muslim Ennahda party in power called off the rallies they had planned to hold following Friday prayers, after the government issued a ban.

“The security situation is normal throughout the country, there is no reason for citizens to be afraid,” interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche said on the Mosaique FM radio station as the prayers were due to start.

Several Islamist groups had called for rallies after the prayers, at the end of a week of the worst violence since a revolution that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

The calls for rallies to promote “sacred values” led to fears of further clashes between demonstrators and police, but Tunisia’s conservative Ansar al-Sharia movement, Ennahda and the Hizb Ettahrir movement each announced Thursday that the protests should not go ahead.

“We call on all citizens to go about their normal activities, there is no reason to be afraid,” Tarrouche stressed, adding that the security forces “were ready to confront any kind of threat.”

Police reinforcements were deployed along Bourguiba Avenue, a main thoroughfare in central Tunis which has been traditionally been used for mass demonstrations.

The north African country was rocked between Monday and Wednesday by clashes that left one dead and dozens wounded after ultra-conservative Salafists took issue with works at an art exhibition they deemed offensive to Islam.

One person was killed and more than 100 injured, including 65 policemen. The authorities responded with a curfew on the capital and in several other parts of the country.

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Ennahda (Renaissance), which dominates the government and the national assembly, had called for “a peaceful march to defend the revolution and sacred values”, but cancelled the protest as “a sign of appeasement.”


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