Tunisians honour massacre dead as museum reopening delayed
Tunisians on Tuesday honoured the 21 people killed in last week`s jihadist attack on foreign tourists at their national museum, but its promised reopening was delayed.
Tunis: Tunisians on Tuesday honoured the 21 people killed in last week`s jihadist attack on foreign tourists at their national museum, but its promised reopening was delayed.
Hundreds of people had gathered outside the National Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis, before it was announced that the reopening had been scrapped at the last minute.
Confusion reigned over the reasons for the delay, with museum officials suggesting it was because of "security" issues after Wednesday`s attack and the government speaking of unfinished work at the site.
The culture ministry said "logistical" problems meant the facility was unable to handle "thousands of people".
Museum directors said they wanted to resume normal operations as soon as possible to show that the gunmen "had not achieved their objective".
Officials have admitted there were security failures on the day of the attack on the complex, which is next to Tunisia`s parliament.
A symbolic official ceremony honouring the dead -- 20 foreign tourists and policeman -- went ahead as planned amid a heavy security presence on Tuesday afternoon.
The ceremony, for invited guests and the media only, opened with dancers in traditional costume and children wearing Roman togas before a classical recital by the Tunisian Symphony Orchestra under a huge antique mosaic.
"It`s a symbolic ceremony. Life goes on -- there is still joy," parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur told AFP.Bardo curator Moncef Ben Moussa said the museum should reopen "as normal on Sunday", the day the presidency wants an international march "against terrorism".
Site managers reported minor damage to the facility during the attack by two men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the museum on Tuesday to protest against the attack.
Some held signs in English reading "Visit Tunisia", while others carried banners that said "I will receive you with jasmine".
"If we want tourists to come back we must set an example," demonstrator Najet Nouri said.
A handful of tourists arrived at the Bardo unaware that its reopening had been postponed.
"We were not told. We came here to visit the museum," said Eliane Cotton of France.
The attack has raised deep fears for Tunisia`s vital tourism industry.
It was the first to be claimed in Tunisia by IS, the Sunni Muslim extremist group that has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and claimed attacks in several Arab countries.
On Monday, Prime Minister Habib Essid sacked the police chiefs for Tunis and the area around the museum.
An officer in charge of security at the Bardo was arrested and jailed, although no official explanation was given.With feeble growth and graduate unemployment at 30 percent, there are fears the attack could hurt Tunisia`s shaky economy by discouraging visitors.
A spokesman for Essid said the museum would reopen soon, "but there is work to do".
"The museum is very well secured, I can assure you," said Mofdi Mssedi.
An AFP reporter said police erected additional barriers around the museum entrance.
Protest organiser Amel Smaoui said it was "a shame" that the reopening had been delayed.
"It`s about showing a positive image to counter the desired effect" of the attack, she said. "We want to show people standing together."
President Beji Caid Essebsi has said a third suspect in the shooting is being hunted, after the two gunmen shot dead at the scene were revealed to have received training at militant camps in neighbouring Libya.
Authorities say as many as 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Iraq, Syria and Libya to join jihadist ranks, raising fears of returning militants plotting attacks.
"They return hardened, better-trained and capable of operations such as this," Essid said. "This is a serious problem."