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Tunisian Islamists clash with police over banned rally

Ansar al-Sharia called on its hardline Islamist supporters to defy a government ban on its annual rally.

Tunisian police clashEnlarge
Tunisian Police Special Unit agents patrol with dogs in a street that leads to Okba Ibn Nafaa mosque in the southern Tunisian city of Kairouan on May 19, 2013. Tunisian Salafist movement Ansar al-Sharia called on its supporters to gather in a Tunis suburb, after the government banned it from holding its annual congress in the central city of Kairouan. (FETHI BELAID /AFP/Getty Images)

At least one supporter of the hard line Islamic group Ansar al-Sharia died in clashes with Tunisian police on Sunday, after the group encouraged its supporters to defy a government ban on their annual rally.

The unnamed 27-year-old man was killed in the capital city Tunis, according to Reuters, which also reported several protesters had been injured in the day's violence. 

In the Tunis suburb of Ettadhamen, about 500 supporters threw stones and clashed with police, who fired tear gas in response, according to the BBC

Police tried to keep the group, which openly supports al Qaeda, from holding their annual gathering in the central Tunisian city of Kairouan, saying it posed a threat to society.

The Interior Ministry said on Friday it had banned the gathering of the group, "which has shown disdain for state institutions, incited violence against them and poses a threat to public security."

Ansar al-Sharia is considered the most radical of the extremist groups that emerged after the 2011 revolution that ousted veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

They have been blamed for a wave of violence across Tunisia, including an attack on the US embassy in September that left four assailants dead.

The group encouraged their supporters to defy the government ban and attend the rally in groups.

"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.

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Inside the city of Kairouan, helicopters hovered overhead and police checkpoints were set up, while special units were deployed in the square facing the mosque which is the venue for the congress.

A local police officer, declining to be named, said: "We have taken all measures to ensure the meeting does not go ahead... We will not allow those coming for this congress to enter the city."

On Sunday, Ansar al-Sharia said police had arrested its spokesman, Rais. A security source confirmed to Reuters that he had been detained.

AFP contributed to this report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130519/tunisia-boosts-security-after-islamists-clash-police-over-banned