A young boy waves a black flag inscribed with Islamic verses at a rally of Tunisian Salafi Islamists. (Photo: Reuters)
Hundreds of Salafists attacked bars and shops and clashed with security forces in a Tunisian town on Saturday in the latest incident to raise religious tensions in the home of the Arab Spring uprisings.
Police and witnesses in the northwestern town of Jendouba said hundreds of Salafists - followers of a puritanical interpretation of Islam - began rioting to protest the arrest of four men in connection with previous attacks on alcohol vendors.
Police responded with tear gas, breaking up the crowd, but clashes had yet to die down, witnesses and police said.
"This morning, four men were arrested in connection with attacks on alcohol vendors in recent days," Interior Ministry official Lutfi al-Haydari told Reuters.
"So hundreds of Salafists attacked the security base, pelting it with rocks and petrol bombs before they were dispersed by tear gas. They also set fire to a police station and attacked three shops in the town ... they are now in the centre of town and are being dealt with."
The clashes come a week after Salafis fought with alcohol vendors in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, prompting the justice minister to promise they would be punished.
Many Salafi Islamists were in jail or underground before the 2011 uprising that ousted secular strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. But they have since become more assertive.
While Islamists did not play a major role in the revolt, the struggle over the role of religion in government and society has since emerged as the most divisive issue in Tunisian politics.