Thousands of Tunisians, led by their president and joined by several foreign dignitaries, have marched in the capital, Tunis, to denounce violence after the museum massacre of 22 tourists.
The event began in Tunis at 10:00GMT on Sunday, going from Bab Saadoun Square to the museum where a stone tablet was dedicated to the memory of the victims.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi hosted the foreign dignitaries, including his French counterpart Francois Hollande, Poland’s president Bronislaw Komorowski, as well as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Algeria’s premier, Abdelmalek Sellal, as well as the foreign ministers of Spain, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, and the Netherlands’ Bert Koenders were also among the dignitaries.
On March 18, two gunmen targeted the National Bardo Museum in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, killing 22 people, mostly foreign tourists, and dealing a severe blow to a country that is highly dependent on tourism.
The dead tourists were from Italy, Japan, France, Spain, Colombia, Australia, Britain, Belgium, Poland and Russia.
A Tunisian policeman was also gunned down. On Saturday, the death toll rose from 21 to 22 after a Frenchwoman died of injuries sustained in the attack.
The attack was “a big blow, but this blow did not kill us, it made us stronger”, Salma Elloumi Rekik, the country’s tourism minister, said on Saturday.
“[For Tunisians] the march is about showing that they are united in their condemnation of the attack,” Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, who has reported extensively from Tunisia, said. “And also about showing solidarity for the victims.”
The museum is due to reopen to the public on Monday.
On Friday, the museum was open to schoolchildren and students only. Bullet holes could still be seen on some of the walls inside.
“I was a little [scared] but now that we are here I can see that things are safe,” Lena Bottlender, a 17-year-old German student, told the AFP news agency.
Soumeya, a young Tunisian who visited on Friday, said she was scared when she watched the attacks on the television.
“We are here to show people that there is nothing to be afraid of,” she said.
Tunisia has seen an upsurge in violence since overthrowing longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but has taken pride in forming a democratic government since the Arab Spring – in marked contrast to countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Meanwhile, Tunisian forces killed nine fighters during a raid on Saturday in a southern region as part of crackdown following the attack on the Bardo museum.
“Our forces killed nine terrorists in a large operation in Sidi Aich in Gafsa. They also captured arms and explosives,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui.
Tunisians fear that the crackdown would lead to a polorisation of the country, which was exactly what the attacker aimed at with the assault, said Al Jazeera’s Moshiri.