Tunisia definitively bans Salafist congress

The Tunisian government has definitively banned hardline Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia from holding its annual congress at the weekend, the interior ministry announced on Friday.

"We have decided to prohibit this gathering, which would be in violation of the law and because of the threat it represents to public order," a statement said.

Earlier, Interior Minister Lofti Ben Jeddou said Ansar al-Sharia, which does not recognise the authority of the state, had not submitted a request for authorisation to hold the meeting, planned for Sunday.

The ministry statement said that "all those who defy the authority of the state and its institutions, who try to sow chaos, who incite violence and hatred will bear all the responsibility."

Ben Jeddou had said earlier in the day that the government would decide by Saturday whether to authorise the meeting and warned that "death threats" from radical Islamists will not be tolerated.

Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the moderate Islamist ruling party Ennahda, said this week the government had banned Ansar al-Sharia, from holding its congress.

Angered by that, the group vowed to go ahead with the gathering in the historical central city of Kairouan and warned that the government would be responsible should violence erupt.

"We are not asking permission from the government to preach the word of God and we warn against any police intervention to prevent the congress from taking place," spokesman Seifeddine Rais said on Thursday.

Rais said more than 40,000 people were expected to attend the congress and warned that "the government will be responsible for any drop of blood spilt."