State of emergency extended until January in Tunisia

A protester shouts slogans during a protest against the government on the first anniversary of the first free Tunisian election, in Tunis October 23, 2012. Tension has been growing between Islamists and secularists since the Islamist Ennahda Movement won an election after the toppling of secular autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last year in the first of the "Arab Spring" uprisings. (Photo: Reuters - Anis Mili)

Published Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki on Wednesday extended the country's state of emergency through January, continuing special intervention powers for the police and army after a recent series of Islamist attacks.

A Tunisian imam who was wounded when Islamists attacked police this week died of his wounds on Thursday, a security official said, bringing to two the death toll from the clashes.

Khaled Karaoui, imam of the Ennour mosque in the Tunis suburb of Manouba, died in hospital before dawn, said local national guard commander Nizar Badis.

Karaoui was among militants who attacked two national guard posts in Manouba after police arrested a Salafist suspected of assaulting the head of the area's public security brigade.

During the clashes, one of the attackers was killed and two policemen wounded.

The state of emergency has been in place since January 2011, when a revolution ousted long-time autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It must be renewed at the end every month according to a law passed in July.

Authorities had pointed to the shortened extensions as a sign of improving security, but Wednesday's announcement of a three-month extension will likely raise fears of a deteriorating situation in Tunisia, which is still dealing with instability unleashed by the revolution.

"Marzouki decided Wednesday to extend the state of emergency by three months from November 1, 2012," said the official TAP news agency.

The extension was proposed by military and security officials, it added.

The authorities have vowed to crack down on Islamist violence in the wake of a Salafi-led attack on the US embassy in September in which four assailants were killed.

After the clashes on Tuesday in the suburbs of Tunis, dozens of Islamists, some armed with knives, took to the streets of the capital on Wednesday.

The government said police and soldiers had deployed heavily and would use all means to quell any unrest, but no such forces were visible on the ground.

Tuesday's attacks in the Tunis suburb of Manouba came after police arrested a Salafi suspected of assaulting the local security chief.

The opposition accuses the government, led by Islamist party Ennahda, of failing to rein in violence by the Salafis, a hardline branch of Sunni Islam.

Ennahda issued a statement on Wednesday appealing for calm and saying the "state has a right to deal with all threats to social peace."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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