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Tunisia's Jews raise security fears with government

Jewish minority in Tunisia feels the tension as Islamists group orchestrated anti-Jewish protests

AFP , Wednesday 16 Feb 2011
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Tunisia's Jewish minority has raised fears for its security with the interim government after Islamists held anti-Jewish protests outside a synagogue last week, the community's leader said Tuesday.

The interior ministry on Tuesday condemned extremist demonstrations and incitement to violence in an apparent reference to the protests outside the main synagogue in the capital Tunis on Friday.

Leader of the Muslim country's small centuries-old Jewish community, Roger Bismuth, told AFP he had met Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi on Saturday and informed him of the Islamist demonstration.

"About 40 religious people gathered Friday in front of the main synagogue in Tunis and started chanting ant-Jewish slogans and inappropriate words," he said. "I think this is something that might happen again," he said.

Muslim Tunisia is home to about 1,600 Jews, most of whom live on the southern island of Djerba where its most important synagogue, reputed to be the oldest in Africa, is based and draws thousands of pilgrims every year.

The head of Djerba's Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, said there had been no attack against its members since protests ousted Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a month ago.

Trabelsi also noted that the torching of a Jewish house of worship in southern Tunisia during January violence did not deliberately target the edifice, but was part of larger attacks against the whole neighbourhood.

"We have followed the events in Tunisia like the rest of the population," he said. "We are Tunisians above all and we want to live like all the other Tunisians."

Tunisia's Jewish community is one of the largest Jewish in the Arab world but its numbers have dropped dramatically from a population of 100,000 at independence from France in 1956, after which the government promulgated anti-Jewish decrees.

In April 2002 a suicide bomber rammed the wall of the Djerba synagogue with a lorry laden with natural gas in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda that killed 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French visitors.

Tunisia's interim government is struggling to stabilise the country since Ben Ali's departure amid fears new violence.

In a statement on the official TAP news agency, the interior ministry condemned acts of extremists at places of worship.

"These people have no other motive than to attack the values of the republican regime based on the respect of freedom and belief, tolerance and peaceful co-existence ... and the guarantee of the exercise of civic rights," it said.

The ministry said it would "spare no effort to safeguard these values and opposes all those who want to incite violence or discord between the Tunisian people and disturb public security".

It extended indefinitely a state of emergency imposed on January 14 as Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia but ordered an end to a nationwide curfew.

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