Paris -

A French councillor of Tunisian origin on Wednesday said he was beaten by religious extremists in Tunisia because his wife and daughter's clothing were seen as provocative.

Jamel Gharbi, a councillor in the north-western city of Le Mans, said that he and his family were strolling around the northern coastal Tunisian town of Bizerte August 16 when they came across a group of men with the long beards and tunics of ultra-conservative Salafi Muslims.

“I saw they were looking at them (his wife and daughter) with hate because of their summer clothes, even though there was nothing provocative about them (the clothes),” he was quoted by the Lemainelibre.fr, a Le Mans news site, as saying.

“They told us we were in an Islamist country and I quickly understood things were going to degenerate,” he said.

“I cried out to my wife and daughter to run. They then pounced on me and struck me with their fists, feet and sticks,” he added.

Gharbi, 62, said he had reported the attack to police and cut short his visit to Tunisia.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who was born in Tunisia, condemned the “cowardly, despicable act by an extremist minority” as an “attack on Tunisia's values.”

The attack took place on the same evening as a group of Salafis attacked festivalgoers in Bizerte with knives and batons, injuring five people.

The demonstrators were protesting the presence of a Lebanese Shiite militant, who had expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Salafis are Sunnis. They see Shia Muslims as heretical.

Two other towns also saw protests last week by Salafis against artists they accused of offending Islam in their work.

The opposition and civil society groups accuse the authorities of hanging back during Salafi demonstrations.

Tunisia is run by a tripartite coalition headed by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda. - Sapa-dpa