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Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia Must Obey Law, Prime Minister Says

Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia, which clashed with police today after its spokesman was arrested, is an illegal organization with terrorist ties and must comply with the law or cease to exist, the country’s prime minister said.

“We will deal with this organization with total seriousness but in accordance with the law,” Ali Laraydeh said in an interview in Doha, Qatar. “This organization exists but isn’t legal. It must either follow the law or end its existence.”

Tunisia is struggling with political and economic instability after street protests led to the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, sparking uprisings across the Arab world and the downfall of regimes in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Police today fired tear gas at supporters of Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist Islamic group, in the city of Kairouan today, Radio Mosaique FM reported. The group’s spokesman Saifeddine Rais was arrested and a planned meeting by the group was banned.

The Ansar al-Sharia spokesman was arrested for “incitement” and will be turned over to the judiciary for judgment, Laraydeh said.

Laraydeh is trying to improve Tunisia’s economy and prepare for elections planned for later this year amid recent unrest. Foreign direct investment dropped 10 percent in the first quarter, Slim Besbes, adviser to the prime minister on investment, said May 10. The decline came amid a crisis caused by the assassination in February of Chokri Belaid, a secular politician opposed to the Islamist group Ennahda, which led the government elected after the fall of Ben Ali.

Elections Planned

Recent unrest won’t impede the planned elections, Laraydeh said.

“We are working to hold elections before the end of 2013,” he said. “There aren’t big impediments to achieve this.”

The International Monetary Fund gave its initial approval of a $1.75 billion loan to Tunisia last month. The agreement “eases pressure” on the country’s credit rating, Fitch Rating Ltd said April 23.

The IMF imposed no requirements for granting the loan, the prime minister said.

“They looked at our program,” he said. “Our social, economic and administrative programs include many reforms and they accepted them.”

Tunisia doesn’t plan to draw on the loan unless absolutely necessary, Laraydeh said.

“That loan gives strength to the Tunisian lira and assures investors,” he said. “It allows us to enter into other financial markets and get loans.”

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