Protests force Tunisia leaders from slain police ceremony

AFP , Friday 18 Oct 2013

The Tunisian leaders left after about 20 minutes of jeers from the crowd, without any of them addressing the gathering

Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki (C), Constituent Assembly's President Mustapha Ben Jaafar (L) and Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh listen during the National Conference for Dialogue, which aims to pave the way for the formation of a transitional government, in Tunis October 5, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

Protesting security forces drove Tunisia's top leaders from a memorial ceremony Friday for two policeman killed by militants, in a sign of growing frustration over the costly fight against jihadists.

President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar were confronted by members of the security forces, some in uniform, shouting "Get out!" during the official ceremony at a military barracks in the Tunis suburb of L'Aouina.

The Tunisian leaders left after about 20 minutes of jeers from the crowd, without any of them addressing the gathering.

"We won't accept the presence of politicians," shouted one of the protesters, as many of the demonstrators carried placards demanding laws to protect the police.

Only Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou was able to attend the ceremony for the two men killed on Thursday by an armed group in the Beja region, 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Tunis.

"We are all against terrorism. This is a war, and we will not give up," he said in a brief speech.

Earlier, the interior ministry spokesman said security forces had killed several members of the group suspected of carrying out Thursday's attack, which also left one policeman wounded, in a military offensive.

Security force unions have organised several demonstrations in recent months to condemn the lack of resources made available to combat Tunisia's jihadist movement, which has seen an alarming rise since the 2011 revolution.

But this is the first time police representatives have directly blamed the country's top leaders, who normally attend memorial ceremonies for police and soldiers killed in combat.

In a separate incident in December, Marzouki and Ben Jaafar were forced to flee a ceremony in the poor central town of Sidi Bouzid to mark the two year anniversary of the revolution that erupted there.

On that occasion, protesters disappointed with the government's failure to improve living conditions heckled them and pelted them with stones.

Since December, security forces have been tracking a group of militants allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda in the Chaambi mountain region along the Algerian border, with some 15 soldiers and police killed in the operations.

Despite air strikes and a major military offensive launched in July, the militants remain active, with clashes reported as recently as last weekend.

The two policemen killed on Thursday were trying to verify the presence of an armed group sheltering in Beja, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) north of the Chaambi region.

The defence ministry has admitted lacking the resources needed to confront the jihadist threat, notably equipment to clear the mountainous border region of mines placed by the jihadists, which have proved highly effective against the security forces.

Tunisia was plunged into crisis in July when opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi was shot dead by suspected jihadist gunmen, in circumstances similar to the murder of another opposition MP, Chokri Belaid, six months earlier.

Tunisia's radical Salafist movement Ansar al-Sharia has been implicated in both killings, with the interior ministry saying its leader, Abou Iyadh, as well as the suspected gunmen themselves, are currently holed up in Mount Chaambi.

The ruling Islamist party Ennahda, which shot to power in 2011 parliamentary polls, is frequently accused by the opposition of failing to rein in the country's armed jihadists.

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