Officially on video: Ghannouchi supports Salafists
TUNIS - The head of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party has advised radical Salafists to behave wisely in order to consolidate their gains over secularists, according to a video posted Wednesday on the Internet.
But Rached Ghannouchi's Ennahda party said the controversial comments he made during a meeting with Salafist youths were taken out of context and dated back to February.
During the meeting Ghannouchi urged Salafists to hold on to what they have gained "with wisdom," as the secularists "could make a comeback after their failure" in last October's elections.
He also warned of a resurgence of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's dissolved Rally for Constitutional Democracy, saying: "The army and the police are not safe and the RCD supporters are coming back.
"I tell our young Salafists to be patient... Why hurry? Take your time, to consolidate what you have gained," he added, advising them to "create television channels, radio stations, schools and universities."
A senior member of Ghannouchi's moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which triumphed in the first election after the revolution which ousted Ben Ali in January 2011, insisted that the video had been doctored.
Amer Larayedh also insisted that Ghannouchi made the remarks in February and that they had been broadcast in April, adding that the video which was posted on the Internet on Wednesday anonymously was a fake.
But the secular opposition jumped on the influential Islamist leader's comments, describing them as "very serious," illustrating the "two-sided language of Ennahda," and "discrediting the country's institutions."
Ennahda, which heads Tunisia's coalition government, has been accused of failing to rein in the increasingly assertive Salafists, who have been implicated in a wave of violent attacks since the revolution.
In an interview with AFP last month, Ghannouchi called the Salafists a danger "to public freedom" and vowed that the authorities would crack down on them after they caused deadly violence at the US embassy in Tunis.