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Hundreds expected at Tunisia's revived Jewish pilgrimage

By AFP

DJERBA, Tunisia (AFP) - Nearly 1,500 Jews are expected on Thursday at Tunisia's Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in Africa, reviving a pilgrimage scaled back last year amid security fears, organisers said Monday.

Some 200 pilgrims from France and Italy had already arrived on the tourist island 500 kilometres (310 miles) south of Tunis and 300 others were expected on Thursday, chief organiser Rene Trabelsi told AFP.

Hundreds of Tunisian Jews were also expected to participate in the two-day pilgrimage under tight security.

Festivities around the annual pilgrimage to the synagogue on the island of Djerba were cut back last year as Tunisia struggled to stabilise in the wake of the protests that forced former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee after 23 years in power.

In April Trabelsi said a successful 2012 pilgrimage would "show the world that Tunisians accept difference and that the new Tunisia is not as Islamist and radical as some think".

"It's a country that respects religious minorities as always," he added.

The pilgrimage is linked to the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer and generally attracts thousands of Jews from Europe, Israel and the US.

The Jewish community in Muslim Tunisia has seen its numbers dwindle from 100,000 in 1956, when the country won independence from France, to around 1,000 currently.

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