Tunisia Islamists storm university over veil ban

TUNIS Sun Oct 9, 2011 9:28am IST

Related Topics

TUNIS (Reuters) - Islamists stormed a university in Tunisia on Saturday after it refused to enrol a woman wearing a full-face veil, a staff member said, highlighting tensions over religion that are likely to dominate an election later this month.

Tunisia votes on Oct. 23 in the first election since a revolution that inspired the "Arab Spring" uprisings. The vote has pitted Islamists against secular Tunisians who say their liberal values are under threat.

"The General Secretary of the university was attacked this morning with extreme violence by a group of religious extremists," said Moncef Abdul Jalil, a faculty head at the university of Sousse, about 150 km (93 miles) south of the Tunisian capital.

About 200 people protested outside the faculty, and then stormed the building carrying banners demanding students' right to wear a veil, Abdul Jalil was quoted as saying by Tunisia's official TAP news agency.

"This serious incident caused a state of terror and panic in the ranks of college students and professors," he said.

Witnesses told Reuters that, after the incident, a large security force contingent surrounded the faculty building to prevent any further attacks.

The clashes in Sousse provoked a storm of anger among secularists on social networking website Facebook.

Following online calls for a counter-protest, about 200 women gathered in El-Menzah, a northern suburb of the capital, to protest against religious violence, witnesses said.

A former French colony, Tunisia has a long history of secularism and liberal attitudes.

That has been challenged since autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was swept from power in January, and conservative Muslims were free to express their views and adopt the outward trappings of their beliefs.

Under Ben Ali rule, thousands of people who were suspected of membership of an Islamist political group or who followed strict interpretations of Islam were arrested.

The full-face veil -- known as the niqab -- is rarely seen on Tunisia's streets but it has been one of the subjects of debate between Islamists and secularists.

The Education Ministry decided to ban students from wearing the niqab at the start of the academic year.

The Islamist Ennahda party is expected to win the biggest share of the vote on Oct. 23, when Tunisians are to choose an assembly which will draft a new constitution.

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi told Reuters in an interview his party would uphold women's rights and not try to impose strict Muslim values on society.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

FILED UNDER:

World Wrap

Reuters Showcase

Putin Critic Killed

Putin Critic Killed

Russians march in memory of murdered Putin critic.  Full Article 

Pakistan's First Win

Pakistan's First Win

Irfan bounces Zimbabwe out as Pakistan claim first win.  Full Article 

Budget 2015

Budget 2015

Full coverage of 2015/16 budget.  Full Coverage 

Hacked to Death

Hacked to Death

Bangladesh pays tribute to U.S. blogger killed in machete attack.  Full Article 

The Apple Car

The Apple Car

Apple car rumours fuel Geneva debate about car of future.  Full Article 

Movie Review

Movie Review

"Dum Laga Ke Haisha" is rooted in reality, writes Shilpa Jamkhandikar.  Full Article | Related Story 

Crowded Market

Crowded Market

China's Huawei enters smartwatch frenzy with round-face models.  Full Article 

Lathmar Holi

In Pics: Lathmar Holi

Images of "Lathmar Holi" at Nandgaon in Uttar Pradesh.  Full Coverage 

World Cup 2015

World Cup 2015

Full coverage of cricket world cup in Australia and New Zealand.  Full Coverage 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage