Clashes have broken out between police and supporters of the Salafist movement Ansar al-Sharia in two places in Tunisia.
One clash occurred on Sunday in a Tunis suburb where the group had told supporters to meet for their annual congress in defiance of a government ban, according to an AFP journalist.
Hundreds of Salafists erected barricades in the streets of Ettadhamen, a poor neighbourhood of western Tunis, and hurled rocks at police, who responded by firing tear gas on Sunday.
The other clash happened in the city of Kairouan, where police fired teargas at supporters of Ansar al-Sharia who were throwing stones at officers.
Security forces were deployed in strength after Ansar al-Sharia threatened to hold the meeting.
Meanwhile, Seifeddine Rais, the group’s spokesman, was arrested at dawn on Sunday as he went jogging in front of police, according to a police source, who described his behaviour as a “provocation”.
Rais had said last week that he expected more than 40,000 people to attend this year’s annual congress, which was planned for 1500 GMT.
Police have also been monitoring traffic along main highways, singling out for checks the private minibuses that ply between Tunisian towns, with special attention paid to men with beards, as worn by Salafists.
Tunisia has been rocked by attacks blamed on Islamist fighters since the uprising that toppled longtime secular dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and Ansar al-Sharia is considered one of the most radical groups that emerged after the 2011 revolution.
The government has hardened its position towards the group in recent months, after the moderate Islamist party Ennahda was strongly criticised for being too lenient and failing to prevent a wave of violence around the country.