Tunisia forces fire in air, fail to end rally

Reuters , Sunday 20 Feb 2011

Tunisian security attempt to disperse protesters by firing shots in the air but to no avail

Tunisian security forces fired in the air on Sunday in a vain attempt to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital calling for a new interim government, a Reuters witness said.

It was the second straight day of mass protests in the North African country's main city, in defiance of a government ban on rallies, after a lull following the popular uprising last month which overthrew President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali.

After weeks of relative calm, as many as 40,000 marchers gathered in front of the prime minister's building shouting slogans such as "Leave!" and "We don't want the friends of Ben Ali!" Others were demanding pay rises.

Security forces fired several times in the air, while two military helicopters circled low over the rally, the Reuters witness said. The protesters remained in place and there was no sign that anyone had been injured.

More than a month after Ben Ali's departure, which sparked a wave of protests elsewhere in the Arab world, some Tunisians accuse the caretaker government charged with setting elections of failing to provide adequate security amid a surge in crime, and doing little to help the poor.

The Interior Ministry said on Saturday that mass demonstrations were forbidden under state of emergency laws and protesters could be arrested.

More than 15,000 protesters clogged central Tunis on Saturday, most of them chanting anti-Islamist slogans after the murder of a priest the government blamed on "a group of terrorist fascists with extremist tendencies", and a series of Islamist protests against brothels.

The two days of protests end a stretch of relative calm in the capital since early February.

Ben Ali, who came to power in 1987, had outlawed Islamism and was seen as repressive and corrupt by many Tunisians. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he is in ill health, according to sources.

Elections to replace him are expected in July or August.

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