Tunisian police ‘fire tear gas’ to disperse Ansar al-Sharia rally
Tunisian Police Special Unit agents fix a national flag on their vehicle in front of the Okba Ibn Nafaa mosque in the central Tunisian city of Kairouan. (Fethi Belaid/ AFP)
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Tunisian police fired tear gas and shots into the air in Tunis on Sunday to disperse some 500 supporters of the hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia who were protesting and throwing stones at police after their rally was banned, according to Reuters news agency.
Reports began circulating that Salafists then clashed with police forces, AFP news agency reported.
Ansar al-Sharia called on its supporters to gather in a Tunis suburb on Sunday, after the government banned it from holding its annual congress in the central city of Kairouan.
"We call on our brothers to gather in large numbers in the Ettadhamen district of the capital," the hardline Islamist group said on its Facebook page.
Earlier, the movement told its supporters to stay away from Kairouan, where the hardline Islamist group had threatened to holds an annual congress on Sunday in defiance of a government ban.
"To the attention of our brothers who are coming to Kairouan from other regions... the head of Ansar al-Sharia informs you of the need to cancel all these trips given the seriousness of the security situation," the group said on its website, according to AFP news agency, without stating if the congress had been cancelled.
Tunisia has been rocked by attacks blamed on militant Islamists since the uprising that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Ansar al-Sharia is considered the most radical of the extremist groups that emerged after the 2011 revolution.
The government has hardened its position towards Islamist extremists in recent months, after the moderate Islamist party Ennahda was strongly criticised for being too lenient and failing to prevent a wave of violence around the country.