Tunisian police kill six Islamist militants in gunfights

TUNIS Fri Oct 18, 2013 4:59pm EDT

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian police have killed six members of Ansar al-Sharia in two days battling the militant Islamist group after two policemen were killed in fighting near the Algerian border, security officials said on Friday.

Ansar al-Sharia is the most radical Islamist group to emerge in Tunisia since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired Arab revolts elsewhere.

"Members of this group had been wanted for planning other attacks," Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said of the gunmen killed in clashes near the northeastern city of Goubellat.

Tunisia's moderate Islamist-led government has agreed to resign, under pressure from the secular opposition that was angered by the killing of two of its leaders this year.

Two months ago, the government declared Ansar al-Sharia a terrorist organization, accusing it of assassinating those politicians, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, who deaths provoked the biggest opposition street protests in Tunisia since the overthrow of Ben Ali in 2011.

Since the revolt, Tunisia has seen mounting strife over the political role of Islam between secularists who long held power and Islamists whose influence is increasing in one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world.

Salafi Islamists have prevented concerts and plays being staged in several Tunisian cities, saying they violated Islamic principles. Hardline Islamists ransacked the U.S. embassy a year ago during worldwide Muslim protests over an Internet video that insulted the Prophet Mohammad.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey and Robin Pomeroy)

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