TUNIS: Tunisia has announced the renewal for another month of the country’s state of emergency, citing armed clashes with militant groups on the borders and internal unrest.
The state of emergency has been in place since the overthrow of longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 following a popular uprising. The country has been racked by internal unrest since then.
The new extension comes in the wake of a terrorist attack on an Algerian gas complex two weeks ago just a few hundred miles south of Tunisia.
Suspected Islamic extremists have also set fire to more than 40 saints’ tombs, which are considered heretical by conservatives.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, the state said it was reinforcing security at oil installations in the south.
Meanwhile, thousands of policemen protested outside the Tunisian prime minister’s office demanding better pay, equipment and protection in the face of a growing security threat from radical Islamists.
Tunisia’s moderate Islamist government has said Al-Qaeda-linked militants have been accumulating weapons with the aim of creating an Islamic state, two years after the revolution that inspired uprisings across the Arab world.
Police say they do not have the appropriate resources to deal with the threat from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and domestic Islamist militants who have easy access to weapons from neighboring Libya.
Around 3,000 uniformed officers gathered in Kasabah Square in front of the office of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, chanting slogans demanding higher salaries, more equipment and legal protection if they fire their weapons in the line of duty.
“This protest aims to bring to the attention of the prime minister all the risks to the security forces ... including the threat from Al-Qaeda,” said Montassar Materi, Secretary-General of the Security Forces Syndicate, a union of police officers.
The ruling Ennahda party that won Tunisia’s first post-Arab Spring election in October 2011 has struggled to restore stability following Ben Ali’s ousting.
Tunisian Interior Minister Ali Laryed said in December that police had arrested 16 Islamist militants who had been accumulating weapons. Earlier this month, authorities said they had seized a big arms cache in the south of the country and made several arrests.
This week Tunisia’s state news agency reported that the government had deployed special combat units to its borders with Algeria and Libya to protect its oil and gas installations from potential attacks from Islamist militants. That followed the Al-Qaeda-linked attack at an Algerian gas plant.
Despite moves to combat militant threats, Tunisia’s secularist groups have accused the Ennahda party of being too soft on extremists.