Second Islamist dies in Tunisian prison after hunger strike

TUNIS Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:28am GMT

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TUNIS (Reuters) - A second Tunisian Salafist held in custody since protesters ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunis in September has died after a hunger strike, his lawyer and the Justice Ministry said on Saturday.

Muhammed Bakhti died in hospital on Saturday, two days after 26-year-old student Bechir Gholli. They were among dozens of Salafists, hardline Muslims, on hunger strike over prison conditions.

"It's a shame that Tunisians die in prison after the revolution," Bakhti's lawyer, Anouar Aouled Ali, told Reuters.

Tunisia became the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" in January 2011 when protesters overthrew a long-established government and sent political shockwaves through the Arab world.

The attack on the U.S. embassy in September was triggered by an anti-Islam video made in the United States. Authorities arrested 144 people.

Bakhti was a student at the Faculty of Literature in Tunis. He took part in armed clashes in 2007 against the security forces of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and was arrested and held until after the revolution.

"The death of Tunisians because of hunger strikes is unacceptable .. the government should respond to the demands of the rest of the hunger strikers," Imen Triki, president of the Freedom and Fairness human rights group, said.

"We regret the death of any Tunisian .. We have made ​​many attempts to persuade Gholli and Bakhti to stop the hunger strike, but they refused and we provided them medical assistance," Justice Minister Noureddine Behiri said on Friday.

The deaths of the two Salafists could embarrass the Islamic government, which faces pressure both from militant Muslims and secularists.

After an election last year, Ennahdha, a moderate Islamic group, formed a coalition with two non-religious parties. It has promised not to ban alcohol, impose the veil or use sharia as the basis of Tunisian law.

It is under pressure from both Salafists calling for the introduction of Islamic law and secular opposition parties determined to prevent this.

Two people were killed when police opened fire during clashes with Salafists in Tunis two weeks ago.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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