Tunisians fill the city center to protest against the president

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Tunisian police used tear gas and water cannons on Friday to disperse hundreds of protesters who defied a ban on gatherings to protest President Kais Saied’s seizure of power in July.

While the country celebrates 11 years of the late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile, the police were heavily deployed in central Tunis to counter the demonstrations against Saied calling for an end to his “coup”.

The protesters had gathered despite restrictions on gatherings imposed Thursday as coronavirus cases surge in the North African country, but that Saied’s opponents say they are politically motivated.

AFP reporters saw more than 1,000 protesters gather on Mohamed V avenue but were prevented from reaching the iconic Habib Bourguiba avenue, the epicenter of the vast protests that culminated in Ben Ali in 2011.

Some protesters walked through a police They cordoned off before police charging with batons and water cannons and tear gas pushed them back.

AFP reporters saw dozens of arrests.

“This is the most violent intervention by the security forces that we have seen in the last year, both in terms of the methods used and the number of arrests,” said Fathi Jarai, president of the independent anti-torture body INPT.

Some protesters had chanted “Down with the coup!”, a reference to Saied’s July 25 actions in which he sacked the government, froze parliament and seized a variety of powers.

Since then he has ruled virtually by decree, to the outrage of his opponents, including the Islamist-inspired powerhouse. Ennahdha party.

Some Tunisians, tired of the bribe-ridden and inept parliamentary system, welcomed his moves.

But to his critics, both among Ennahdha members and on the left, they presaged a possible return to the same kind of autocratic practices that were common under Ben Ali.

Prominent human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine, who headed the now-defunct Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD), accused the authorities of depriving Tunisians of the right to protest and threatening the country’s “hard-won freedom”. .

“We are here to defend the institutions of the republic,” he said.

“These people, who headed a 23-year dictatorship, are not going to let another dictator take their place.”

‘Working for Sisi’

One of Saied’s moves was to change the official anniversary of the revolution from the date of Ben Ali’s flight to December 17, the day in 2010 when vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself alive sparking the first mass protests.

The move was seen as symbolizing Saied’s view that the revolution had been stolen.

Sofiane Ferhani, whose sister was killed in the revolution, said Saied had no right to “touch” the Jan. 14 anniversary.

“We will not let him do it, this day is too dear to us,” he said.

Ennahdha’s supporters have compared Saied to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose crackdown on Islamist protesters in 2013 left hundreds dead.

A female protester told a police officer on Friday: “You are working for Sisi and the United Arab Emirates!”

The protests took place despite a series of measures, including a nightly curfew and a ban on public gatherings, introduced on Thursday night purportedly to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Ennahdha, the largest party in the suspended parliament, accused Thursday of “using the coronavirus crisis for political purposes, targeting what remains of the margin of freedom” in Tunisia.

The confrontation comes amid rising tensions between the party and comes after former Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri and another senior Ennhadha official were arrested by plainclothes police on December 31 and later charged with possible crimes of “terrorism”.

(AFP)

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