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Tunisians call for civil state on national day

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Thousands of Tunisians marched through the center of the capital Tuesday calling for a civil state on the 56th anniversary of the country’s independence from France.

The march in Tunis was the latest move in the ongoing battle between Islamists and secularists after a popular uprising overthrew dictator President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a year earlier.

Since the fall of the hardline secular regime of Ben Ali, political Islam has flourished in the country. A moderate Islamist party now controls the government in cooperation with two secular parties.

More disturbing for secularists, however, has been the rise of a movement of ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis that want to dramatically increase the role of religion in the state.

Both sides have been holding regular demonstrations, while an assembly elected in November writes the new constitution.

“Tunisia is free, no to the Caliphate and backwards minds,” read one of the signs carried by the demonstrators, many of whom were young women wearing the red and white Tunisian flag.

Demonstrators calling for a civil state marched down the tree-lined Bourguiba Avenue, past the Interior Ministry, where the final demonstrations that brought down Ben Ali on Jan. 14 took place.

“I am fighting for a constitution of consensus for all Tunisians that rewards their trust, no matter what their politics,” said Maya Jribi, the head of the leftist opposition Progressive Democratic Party, who also marched in the demonstration.

The new Tunisian president, former human rights activists Moncef Marzouki, called on Tunisians to “live together despite their differences,” during a ceremony Tuesday at the presidential palace.

He urged people to be vigilant “against extremism from wherever it comes and preserve a civil state based on pluralism, democracy and fundamental freedoms.”

In recent weeks, Islamist and secular students groups have clashed on university campuses, and last week a few mosques around the country were vandalized.

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