Tunisia lifts curfew imposed following riots

TUNIS Fri Jun 15, 2012 3:52pm EDT

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia lifted a night time curfew on Friday imposed earlier this week following riots by Salafi Islamists and others over an art exhibition they deemed insulting to Islam.

One man died in the unrest which broke out on Tuesday in Tunis and started spreading to other parts of the country.

There had been fears of further trouble on Friday after Salafi leaders, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam, and the ruling moderate Islamist Ennahda party both called for protests in defense of religion.

But the demonstrations were called off at the last minute after the interior ministry refused to issue licenses to the march organizers.

Security forces deployed in large numbers on Friday around the Fateh Mosque, which is dominated by Salafis, but worshippers went home peacefully after prayers.

"After the improvement in the security situation and considering the interests of citizens, the ministry of interior and national defense has decided to end the curfew," the interior ministry later said in a statement on its Facebook page.

The riots were some of the worst clashes since last year's revolt ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and launched uprisings across the Arab world.

The violence raised tough questions about the limits of freedom in post-revolutionary Tunisia and fueled fears among Tunisians of a slide into instability.

It also put Ennahda, which leads the government in coalition with two secular parties, in a difficult position as it struggles to satisfy conflicting demands.

While the Islamists did not play a major role in the revolution, the struggle over the role of Islam in government and society has since emerged as the most divisive issue in Tunisian politics and several clashes have erupted in recent months, some of them involving attacks on alcohol vendors.

(Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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