Tunisian Police Use Teargas Against Islamist Protesters

Posted October 9th, 2011 at 9:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Tunisian police used teargas Sunday to disperse hundreds of Islamists protesting a law barring women who wear the full-face veil from enrolling in university, and a television station's decision to broadcast a film they said denigrates Islam.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said police blocked the attackers – who were armed with stones, knives and batons – before they could storm the offices of the private Nessma television station. About 50 people were arrested.

The Islamists were angered by the channel's recent showing of Persepolis, an award-winning film based on the account of a woman growing up in Iran under strict religious rule following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

This unrest broke out Saturday when a group of Islamists tried to storm a university in Sousse, about 150 kilometers south of the capital, Tunis. Administrators there had refused to enroll a woman wearing the niqab, or full-face veil.

These twin assaults are the latest attacks against perceived symbols of secularism in Tunisia by hardcore Muslims – known as Salafists – ahead of this month's landmark elections for a constitutional assembly.

The front-runner in the polls is expected to be the Ennahda Party, a moderate Islamist movement that was severely repressed under the previous government. Ennahda condemned Sunday's violence. The group says it respects women's rights and does not want to impose its religious values on Tunisian society.

The October 23 elections are the country's first since a revolution toppled the country's autocratic leader in January.