Tunisian secularists protest at Islamists on campus

Thu Dec 1, 2011 6:43pm GMT

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian universities went on strike and nearly 3,000 people protested against Islamist influence Thursday after religious hardliners occupied a campus to demand segregation of male and female students.

Tunisia, birthplace of the "Arab Spring" urprisings, has seen mounting tension between Islamists and secularists since its revolution in January paved the way elections won by a moderate Islamist party.

The Islamist Ennahda party, now leading a coalition government, says it has nothing to do with hardline Islam, but secularists accuse the party of creating an atmosphere in which fundamentalism can thrive.

University staff across the country held a one-day strike to protest against Islamist students who for a fourth consecutive day were occupying a campus at Manouba, near Tunis.

Demonstrators outside Tunisia's interim parliament carried banners reading "All disasters come from Ennahda," "University is free" and "Niqab out," a reference to the Islamic full-face veil.

Among the hardline Islamists' demands is the abolition of a ban on female students wearing the niqab in classes. Ennahda has joined other parties in condemning the occupation of the university.

"I am here because I am afraid for the future of my sons and daughters," said Suhail Chamli, a university professor attending the protest.

"If we accept the imposition of the veil and the separation of male and female we are going to get an extremist society and we will lose everything ... We must address this trend," he said.   Continued...

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