February 18, 2011 / 8:29 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Three hurt in Tunis Islamist protest over brothel

* Hundreds of Islamists protest against brothel

* Military fires in air, three injured - witnesses

(Adds killing of Polish priest)

TUNIS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - At least three people were injured on Friday when Tunisian security forces fired in the air to disperse hundreds of Islamists protesting against a brothel in the capital Tunis, witnesses said.

The incident was the latest sign of Islamists organising in the North African state, the only Arab country with legal prostitution, after an uprising toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last month.

“Almost 500 Islamists, many wearing beards, were demonstrating in Old Medina to demand the closure of a brothel,” said Mourad Barhoumi, a Tunis resident who witnessed the demonstration.

“There were several dozen riot police who shut off entry to the neighbourhood. They fired in the air to break up the crowd, which didn’t want to go until the brothel was shut,” he said, adding that three people were injured.

A second witness at the demonstration confirmed the details to Reuters by phone, but asked not to be named. The demonstrators later dispersed after a military official announced that the brothel had been shut, he said.

It was the third brothel shut by the movement in recent weeks.

A military spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Separately, Tunisia’s Interior Ministry blamed “terrorists” for the killing of a Polish priest, found with his throat slit in the school where he worked. He said the group was seeking to destabilise the country.

Tunisia, North Africa’s smallest country, was plunged into turmoil after one man’s self-immolation in a protest against the authorities sparked a revolt that led Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia last month and encouraged a similar revolution in Egypt.

Ben Ali, who took power in 1987, cracked down on the Islamist movement and was seen by many as an oppressive ruler.

Elections to replace him are expected by July or August, and at least one Islamist candidate is expected to run. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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