Women take part in a protest demanding the release of rights activists detained during recent demonstrations
omen take part in a protest demanding the release of rights activists detained during recent demonstrations in Sanaa January 24, 2011.

A protest broke out in a Tunisian university after students demanded the right to wear the burka, a full body cloak, and the establishment of a prayer room on campus.

The protest, at the University of Arts and Humanities in Manouba, a northern city near the capital Tunis, started Monday.

Students carried banners reading, "We demand our sisters' right to wear the burka and a prayer space."

Other slogans, referring to the country's ousted dictator, included, "Ben Ali has not yet left the country, since girls wearing the burka are still banned from attending classes" and "Wearing the burka is a personal choice that is being violated."

The protesters blocked access to university buildings and prevented anyone from entering, despite exams being scheduled.

A student told the crowd: "We have tried to meet with the dean on several occasions, but he kept stalling us because he is completely against the idea of the burka. ... Teachers tend to leave the classroom when students wearing a burka walk in."

Throughout the day the protest grew as students from other universities joined the movement.

A standoff between the Islamist protesters and liberal students began. Many said the university decided to close the prayer space after it became a locale for political preaching.

"We want to take our exams. This is not freedom of expression, this is fundamentalism. Nobody is stopping them from praying - we have a whole hour for lunch break, they can pray during that time. I think this is a political sham," said Ibtissem Khlif, a student wearing the veil.