Hundreds demonstrate for secular Tunisia

Tunisians protested for a secular state after an attempt by Islamists to set light to a brothel.

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2011, 20:52 PM IST

Tunis: Hundreds of Tunisians demonstrated
on Saturday for a secular state following the murder of a Polish
priest, verbal attacks on Jews and an attempt by Islamists to
set light to a brothel.

Rallied by a call on social network Facebook, they
gathered in the main Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis waving placards
reading, "Secularism = Freedom and Tolerance" and "Stop
Extremist Acts".

"We`ve called this demonstration to show that Tunisia is
a tolerant country which rejects fanaticism and to strengthen
secularism in practice and in law," blogger Sofiane Chourabi,
29, said.

Police stood by as military helicopters circled overhead.
Earlier today the Tunisian authorities and the country`s
main Islamist movement denounced the murder of the priest who
was found dead in the country with his throat slit.

Marek Rybinski, 34, was found dead yesterday in the
garage of the private religious school in the Manouba region
near the capital where he was responsible for the accounting.

"The ministry of religious affairs condemns this criminal
act and calls on all men of religion and civil society to act
with determination to prevent such acts happening again," the
ministry said in a statement carried by news agency TAP.

It emphasised that "Tunisia has always been a place of
peaceful coexistence between races and nationalities and of
dialogue between civilisations, religions and culture."

The main Islamist movement in Tunisia, Ennahda
(Awakening), also "strongly" condemned the murder today,
saying it was "a tactic to distract Tunisians from the
objectives of Tunisia`s revolution."

"We denounce what happened and we condemn all those who
are behind it. We call on the Tunisian authorities to discover
the real circumstances of this murder and find the people who
did it to enlighten public opinion," the president of the
movement`s founding assembly, Ali El-Aryath, said.

The murder was the first of a foreigner or priest since
the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled by mass
protests on January 14. An interim government has been
installed but the situation in the country is still extremely
volatile.

The interior ministry blamed "fascist terrorists with
extremist attitudes," without making it clear if it was
referring to religious radicals or loyalists of the ousted
regime.

The murder occurred as hundreds of Islamists rallied in
Tunis yesterday calling for the closure of brothels in the
city. A march on a street housing one of the best-known
brothels was thwarted by police.

PTI