by editor | 10th October 2011 6:43 am
Dozens arrested in two violent demonstrations as tension mounts between Islamists and secularists ahead of elections
Hundreds of protesters attacked a TV station that aired a film they considered to be offensive to Islam [AFP]
Police in the Tunisian capital have used tear gas in an attempt to disperse hundreds of protesters who were attacking authorities with stones and batons.
The protesters, who are aligned with conservative Islamic groups, had gathered at the main university in Tunis on Sunday to protest against a ban on wearing the niqab, or full-face veil, as well as the closing of a mosque near the campus.
Al Jazeera’s Yasmine Ryan, reporting from Tunis, said: “Several hundred protesters were throwing rocks at police in the Ras Ettabia suburb next to the University of Tunis El Manar.”
The university is one of the largest in Tunisia and is a frequent choice of working class students.
Ryan continued: “One reason they are rioting is because they are going to close the mosque right next to the university. Police are firing tear gas and are throwing rocks back at protesters.”
Under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s former president who was forced from power in January, the mosque was a hotbed for activism. It had been forced to close in 2002, and only re-opened after Ben Ali stepped down.
In another neighbourhood of Tunis on Sunday, hundreds of protesters rallied against the decision by a Tunisian television station to broadcast an animated film depicting Allah, a practice that is forbidden by Islam.
“There was a first attempt to attack our headquarters by a group of around 200 Salafists, who were dispersed by police before reaching our offices,” Nebil Karoui, the head of the private channel, told the AFP news agency.
At least 40 people were arrested, witnesses told Reuters.
About 100 police vehicles and several hundred police officers wearing anti-riot gear were deployed to the university protest site, Reuters reported. Several officers were seen running away to escape the protesters.
The protesters, mainly students, blocked a main road in the area and threw stones at vehicles trying to pass through.
They shouted: “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), and “We will die for Allah!”
Tension is mounting between religious groups and the secularists, who have traditionally dominated the ranks of the ruling elite, before an October 23 election in which the Islamist Ennahda party is expected to win the biggest share of the vote.
Tunisia became the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in January when mass protests brought an end to Ben Ali’s decades-long rule.
The new caretaker government scheduled democratic elections and allowed Islamist politcal parties to run for the first time, but secular groups now say that their liberal values are under threat.
The latest round of unrest broke out on Saturday when Islamist supporters tried to storm a university in Sousse, about 150km south of Tunis.
University administrators there had enforced the government ruling by refusing to enroll a woman wearing the niqab.
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