TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian police used tear gas Friday to disperse thousands in the capital in the latest protest over the airing of "Persepolis," an animated film that Islamists have called blasphemous.
The demonstrations are ratching up before Tunisia's landmark Oct. 23 election for a constitutional body that will determine the future of this North African nation that overthrew its longtime dictator in January.
Worshippers poured out of al-Fatah mosque in downtown Tunis and began protesting after the imam preached against "Persepolis," calling it a "serious attack on the religious beliefs of Muslims."
Marjane Satrapi's award-winning adaptation of her graphic novels about growing up during Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution contains a scene showing a character representing God. Depictions of God are considered sacrilege in Islam.
The film won the jury prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
The preacher in Tunis questioned the timing of the broadcast by a private TV station during such a sensitive period before the election.
Police stopped the marchers with tear gas Friday as they headed toward the Nessma TV station.
Station chief Nabil Karoui has since apologized for airing the film earlier this week, calling it a "mistake."
There have been other protests against the TV station in the cities of Sousse, Monastir, Sidi Bouzid and Beja. Police arrested 50 demonstrators in Tunis on Sunday after they tried to attack the station.
There have been a rise in attacks against perceived symbols of secularism by hardcore Muslims in Tunisia ahead of the elections. Once suppressed by the former regime, conservative Muslims are increasingly making themselves heard in the country's politics.
Since the government was overthrown in January, Tunisia has been filled with unrest and demonstrations as well as the rise of a new ultraconservative group of Muslims that had kept a low profile under the largely secular regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Salafists, as the conservatives are known, attacked a movie theater in June that was showing a film they deemed insulting to Islam and last week there were attacks on university that refused to enroll a student wearing the conservative Islamic face veil.
The front-runner in the election is expected to be the Ennahda Party, a moderate Islamist movement that had been severely repressed under the previous regime.