TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Suspected Islamic militants killed six Tunisian policemen in the impoverished south of the country on Wednesday, while thousands of protesters in the capital called for the government's resignation, citing growing insecurity in the country.
Members of the National Guard converged on an isolated home in the southern village of Sidi Ali Bououn, where they had been tipped off that a suspicious group was hiding, said Lotfi Hidouri, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.
They were met with gunfire, and in the ensuing clash at least one alleged militant was killed and one wounded, he added. Four other policemen were injured. Tunisia kicked off the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa when it overthrew its long-ruling dictator in January 2011, and its rocky transition to democracy is being closely watched.
The North African country has been beset by a faltering economy and attacks by al-Qaida-linked militants, including the assassination of two left-wing politicians this year. The developments have spurred opposition to the government, which is led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.
Two years ago to the day, Tunisians voted in Ennahda in the country's first free and competitive elections. The Islamists formed a government in alliance with two secular parties. There has been wide dissatisfaction with the government, however, and after talks with the opposition, it agreed to resign following a national dialogue and the formation of a technocratic government to oversee new elections.
Thousands of opposition supporters protested in the center of the capital, Tunis, on Wednesday to keep pressure on the government and ensure that it would keep its promise to resign. Following the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's secular dictatorship, hardline Islamist groups have gained popularity in Tunisia, some of whom started arming themselves with weapons from nearby Libya.
Government troops have battled cells of armed militants in the mountains along the border with Algeria as well as in the north, where two policemen were killed in another clash on Oct. 17.