TUNIS — Hundreds of supporters of ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's party held a protest in Tunis Saturday, the first since his toppling in January, against their exclusion from politics.

"No to exclusion" and "Tunisia is for everyone", chanted the group -- backers of the Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD) assembled outside the Congress Palace in the city centre.

The group is angry at a decision of the commission charged with organising July 24 elections to disqualify anyone who held a position in the government or the RCD during Ben Ali's 23-year reign.

"From the dictatorship of Ben Ali to the dictatorship of the high commission," read one banner at the protest. "Yes to democracy, no to disorder," said another.

"We refuse to be isolated by a group of people who did nothing for the revolution and who have adopted an unconstitutional, unpatriotic and unethical" position," said Abdelaziz Jradi, an RCD member since 1976.

"Everybody supported Ben Ali, some out of conviction and others out of fear," added Majda, 52.

"Must we pay for the crimes committed by this dictator? One must make a distinction between people directly implicated in crimes and those who were members of the party of Ben Ali but rejected its practices."

Another protester, 72-year-old Halima, lamented that "They want a Taliban regime of people with beards to their knees."

Some protesters carried small coffins with the words "born January 14, died April 11" -- the date of the commission's decision, referring to democracy. Others queued to sign a petition against this "exclusion".

The RCD, created by Ben Ali in 1988, claims to have the support of about two million people in a country of 10 million citizens.

The party was suspended from official activities in February after Ben Ali fled abroad on January 14 at the height of a popular uprising to overthrow his autocratic regime. It was dissolved by a Tunisian court at the demand of the interim government on March 9.

On July 24, Tunisians will vote for a constituent assembly that will develop a new constitution for the north African country.