Thousands of Salafi Islamists, angered by an art exhibition they say insults Muslims, rampaged through parts of Tunis on Tuesday, raising religious tensions in the birthplace of the Arab Spring and piling pressure on the moderate Islamist government.
Protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs at police stations, a court house and the offices of secular parties in some of the worst clashes since last year's revolt ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and launched uprisings across the Arab world.
Salafis, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam, blocked streets and set tires alight in the working class Ettadamen and Sidi Hussein districts of the capital overnight.
By morning, protests had spread to a number of residential districts in the capital and to other cities, posing one of the biggest threats yet to Tunisia's democratic transition.
Stone-throwing youths stopped trams from passing through the capital's Intilaqa district where demonstrators entered mosques and used the loudspeakers to call on Tunisians to defend Islam.
Some 2,500 Salafis were still clashing with police in the area by Tuesday evening, an interior ministry official said, adding that 162 people had been detained and 65 members of the security forces had been wounded trying to quell the riots.
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