Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to call for the departure of the Islamist-led ruling coalition in Avenue Habib-Bourguiba in central Tunis yesterday.
TUNIS: At least eight Tunisian policemen and two Islamist militants were killed yesterday when they clashed during a raid by security forces in Sidi Bouzid in the south of the country, security sources and state television said.
Tunisian authorities say Ansar Al Sharia, one of the Islamist militant movements to emerge since the country’s 2011 uprising, is behind a string of attacks on security forces. Officials say it has ties to al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate. Yesterday’s violence came just days after security forces killed 10 militants blamed for attacking Tunisian police patrols in a remote area near the Algerian border and killing two officers.
Ansar Al Sharia is just one of the hardline Islamist groups based in North Africa. Tunisia’s moderate Islamist-led government two months ago declared it a terrorist organisation after blaming it for murdering two opposition leaders.
Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said last week the group’s leaders has ties with other militant commanders in the region, saying it had profited from the chaos in neighbouring Libya to send fighters there to train and acquire weapons.
Ansar Al Sharia’s leader in Tunisia is a former Al Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan, who is accused of inciting his followers to attack the US embassy compound in Tunis a year ago. Other militant groups operating in North Africa include Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa or MUJWA, which was scattered earlier this year by the French offensive in Mali. MUJWA recently announced it was joining forces with another group led by veteran Algerian Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who masterminded the attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant in January when nearly 40 foreign contractors were killed.
Tunisia’s premier was expected to announce his resignation as the ruling Islamists and opposition begin hard-won negotiations to end months of political crisis and as anti-government protesters massed in the capital.
Parliament speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said he expected Prime Minister Ali Larayedh to announce his commitment to resign, allowing talks between Tunisia’s bitterly divided factions to end the political paralysis gripping the country since the July murder of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi.
“In principle, the government will announce its commitment to respecting the roadmap and its resignation within a few weeks,” he said in a televised interview on Tuesday evening.
Some 60 opposition MPs who have been boycotting parliament since the crisis erupted also said they had received assurances the dialogue would begin with Larayedh announcing a “clear commitment” to step down.
Larayedh has previously said he would only step down once a new constitution has been adopted, in line with the roadmap drawn up by mediators and agreed to earlier this month by his ruling Islamist party Ennahda.Agencies