TUNIS Tunisian troops exchanged fire with militants near the Algerian border on Thursday, security sources said, three days after gunmen killed eight soldiers in one of the deadliest attacks in decades on the country's security forces.
Soldiers had been doing security sweeps since Monday in Mount Chaambi, a remote area where the army has been trying to track down Islamist militants since last December.
A resident in the nearby town of Kasserine told Reuters by telephone he could hear heavy gunfire on the mountain.
A Tunisian security source told Reuters that army troops and special forces had managed to surround the militants, who numbered between 10 and 15. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The rise in instability comes at a time of political turmoil in Tunisia, which has seen large protests against the moderate, Islamist-led government, led by opposition groups angered by an assassination in their ranks last week and emboldened by the army-backed ouster of Egypt's Islamist president.
Both the opposition and government supporters are calling for protests this weekend.
South of the capital in the tourist town of Sousse, three people were wounded when pro- and anti-government protesters fought and pelted each other with rocks, a security source said.
Tunisia, which set off a wave of uprisings across the Arab world after toppling its autocratic leader in 2011, had been upheld as a model of transition in the troubled region. Now it risks a plunge into political turmoil and broader instability.
Earlier on Thursday, Algerian media said Algeria had boosted its military presence near the border in coordination with Tunisian security forces due to increased tensions in the area.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Erika Solomon; Editing by Jim Loney)