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Tunisian PM chastises hardline Islamists

Latest update : 31/05/2012

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Article text by News Wires

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali (pictured) has warned hardline Islamists who attacked police stations and liquor stores that authorities would deal firmly with them. His statement late Wednesday came after several rampages by Salafi Muslims.

AP - Tunisians have lost patience with hardline Islamists sowing violence in the country, and authorities will deal firmly with any such groups “who believe they are charged by God to purify society,” the prime minister said.

The statements by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali were the sternest warning yet against Salafi Muslims who have attacked police stations and other sites while demanding rigid Islamic law in a nation still emerging from years of secular dictatorship. They follow criticism that the new government, which is led by a moderate Islamist party, has been too timid in dealing with the hardliners.

“The patience of Tunisians is at an end. We will not sit by with our arms crossed - we will be on the ground applying the law,” Jebali said late Wednesday.

Tunisians overthrew their longtime secular dictator last year, a revolution that engendered a flowering of political Islam and the victory of Jebali’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party at the ballot box. But the new freedom has also given space to factions such as the ultraconservative Salafis, who have been more than vocal about their demands.

On Saturday, after police arrested a Salafi suspect in the northern town of Jendouba, a group of 200 bearded men attacked the police station with firebombs and stones. They were repulsed with tear gas, but went on a rampage through downtown, attacking bars and liquor stores. Fifteen suspects have been arrested.

Earlier in the month, another group of conservatives attacked bars in the central town of Sidi Bouzid. There also have been numerous other incidents of clashes between Salafis and ordinary citizens since the overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Leftist and liberal opposition parties allege that the government’s cautious approach toward the Salafis has merely emboldened them in their quest to turn Tunisia into an Islamic state.

“The deterioration of the political, social and security situation in Tunisia today is due to the inability of the team in power to find solutions to the urgent problems in the country,” Maya Jribi, the head of the Republican Party, a newly formed alliance of opposition parties, said Monday. She called for a national unity government to address the country’s problems.

On Sunday, Tunisia’s police union demanded expanded powers to deal with the Salafis, including “all means necessary” to put down the disorder.

Jebali didn’t give specifics about what steps the government would take to deal with the hardliners, but said, “It is imperative that these incidents be ended and a firm approach be taken to those who believe they are charged by God to purify society.”