March 24, 2015 / 12:17 PM / 2 years ago

Tunisia's Bardo museum in symbolic reopening and march after attacks

Children perform during the ceremonial reopening of the Bardo museum in Tunis March 24, 2015.Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's Bardo museum held a ceremonial reopening on Tuesday a week after gunmen claiming alliance with Islamic State killed 20 foreign tourists in an attack aimed at wrecking the country's vital tourism industry.

Several thousand Tunisians and foreign visitors to an international forum also marched in the capital Tunis to show solidarity with the Bardo victims who included Japanese, Spanish, Italians and Colombians.

Tunisia is keen to show it can recover from the attack which threatens to damage tourism and mar the country's young democracy four years after a 2011 uprising ended the one-party rule of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Last Wednesday, at least two Tunisian men opened fire on tourists as they got off buses at the Bardo, in one of the worst such incidents in the North African nation for a decade.

Security forces later shot dead the two men, who had been recruited at mosques in Tunisia and subsequently trained at a jihadist camp in Libya.

Tunisians carrying national flags and waving "Visit Tunisia" signs gathered behind barriers outside the Bardo, where dignitaries were invited under tight security to a symbolic reopening with an orchestra playing inside the museum hall.

The Bardo, which has a famed collection of art and artifacts covering more than 3,000 years of history, is expected to welcome back the public at the weekend.

"We don't have any fear, we just want to show solidarity with our country, the government and the Tunisian people," said Tunisian businessman Ali Degez, joining others at the barriers in central Tunis.

Participants at the World Social Forum being held in Tunis marched down a boulevard near the museum, waving Tunisia's red and white national flag and chanting "Terrorists out" and "Tunisia still Stands".

"No one is far removed from this phenomenon, it's all over the world," said Anabel Cardol, a Belgian visitor.

Tunisia's tourism minister has said only 3,000 cancellations had been received since the killings, but the impact is likely to be much greater than that. A number of cruise lines have already announced that they will suspend visits to the country, meaning thousands less visitors in the months ahead.

Last year some six million tourists came to Tunisia, generating around $2 billion in revenues.

The Bardo assault shocked Tunisia, which had mostly managed to escape the upheaval of other "Arab Spring" countries four years after its own revolt toppled autocrat Ben Ali.

Tunisia has since been hailed as a model for compromise politics between secular and Islamist politicians, approving a progressive new constitution and holding presidential and parliamentary elections last year.

But the attack underscored how Islamist militants are trying to turn their sights on North Africa as a new front beyond their main battlefield of Iraq and Syria, with Islamic State loyalists already gaining a foothold in neighboring Libya.

Reporting by Patrick Markey and Tarek Amara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Crispian Balmer

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