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Tunisian president moves against party threatening to 'cut off heads'

Beji Caid Essebsi warns judicial action against Hizb ut-Tahrir may not be enough after court last week overturned ban on party
Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir during meeting in Tunisia in 2013 (AFP)

Tunisia’s president is seeking urgent action against a political party that has threatened to “cut off heads and hands”.

President Beji Caid Essebsi told a security council meeting on Thursday that further measures would have to taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir, a political party with a stated aim of establishing an Islamic caliphate.

The party had issued a statement on Tuesday warning “the criminal government and their English masters” that “heads and hands will be cut off”.

The statement came after the party claimed its head office in Tunis had been raided by police for a second time on Monday night.

“These statements cannot be disregarded,” Essebsi told the meeting, which was filmed and uploaded to his official Facebook account.

“Are we going to applaud [Hizb ut-Tahrir], or go to a court that will just allow them to operate after a while?” he said in reference to a court ruling last week that reversed a previous ban on the party.

Hizb ut-Tahrir – the local branch of a movement founded in Jerusalem in 1953 - was established in Tunisia in the 1970s but was first granted a licence to operate as a political party there in 2012, under the government of the Ennahda party.

The party has continued to operate since Ennahda fell from power to be replaced by the secularist Nidaa Tounes party of president Essebsi.

However, Hizb ut-Tahrir has complained of increasing restrictions – in June the interior ministry forbade the party from holding its fifth annual conference citing security fears.

In early August, a court in the capital Tunis ordered the party to suspend its activities for a month following a request from the government.

However, that decision was overturned by another court ruling three weeks later.