Protests against Ennahda in Tunisia on poll anniversary eve

AFP , Monday 22 Oct 2012

More than 2,000 anti-government protesters march against the Ennahda cabinet to denounce political violence on the eve of Tunisia's first free elections which brought the Islamists into office

Pro-Islamists protesters shout slogans in support of the Ennahda party, in front of Tunisian policemen, during a rally by secularist protesters, in front of the interior ministry in Tunis October 22, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of opposition activists staged protests in Tunisia on Monday against the Islamist-led government and to denounce political violence, days after the death of an opposition party official.

The protests come on the eve of the anniversary of Tunisia's first free elections, in a political climate marked by tensions within the national assembly and a stalled new constitution.

More than 2,000 people gathered in central Tunis, where supporters of the leftist coalition the Popular Front shouted slogans such as: "The people want the regime to fall!" and "Jobs, freedom, dignity!", an AFP reporter said.

The same rallying cries were shouted during the revolution that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year.

Three other parties, including ex-premier Beji Caid Essebsi's Call of Tunisia, also assembled several hundred supporters on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the city centre to denounce sporadic political violence.

The two factions eventually joined up and the protest ended without incident at around 1500 GMT.

"I am here to protest against violence. I think that the government has behaved irresponsibly, and like any irresponsible person, it cannot stay in power," opposition MP Ahmed Khaskhoussi told AFP.

"It does not realise the seriousness of the situation," he added.

Mustapha Kamel Nabli, the former central bank governor was sacked in controversial circumstances in July, also deplored the recourse to violence.

"Tunisia is passing through quite a difficult period, and resorting to violence can only worsen the situation," he said at the rally.

Separately, police clashed with protesters denouncing state violence in the southern Gabes region who refused to leave the two police posts that they had surrounded, an AFP journalist reported.

Around 800 people attended the protest, with the police firing tear gas after waiting two hours for the crowd to disperse, which led to clashes between the two sides.

The interior ministry announced a curfew on Sunday in four areas of the Gabes region, located not far from the marginalised centre of Tunisia where protests and strikes are common, after earlier demonstrations degenerated into violence.

Monday's protests follow the death of a Call of Tunisia official last week in Tataouine, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Gabes, during clashes with supporters of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda in what the opposition party called a "political assassination."

Essebsi's increasingly popular party claims the government will lose its legitimacy on October 23, a year after the assembly was elected, because it was committed to drafting a new constitution within 12 months.

Security has been beefed up at official buildings, banks and other strategic locations ahead of the anniversary, as a "precautionary measure," according to the army.

The Tunisian premier said in an interview published on Sunday that he wanted to build a model democracy in his country.

"Our great project is to build a model democracy for the Arab world," Jebali, who is number two in the Ennahda party, told France's Le Parisien newspaper.

"Our model must succeed, Europe and the United States should help us," he said, urging "European friends to invest in democracy.

"Otherwise, the alternative is chaos, anarchy ... which will affect the whole world," the prime minister added.

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