TUNIS — Tunisian police fired tear gas Friday to break up an anti-government protest in the capital, with demonstrators accusing the authorities of using violence to end their peaceful action.
After Friday prayers, hundreds of protestors joined a sit-in near the seat of government in Tunis’ Kasbah neighbourhood to demand the resignation of the interior and justice ministers.
The demonstrators were clamouring for the judiciary’s full independence and the prosecution of those responsible for the deadly repression of Tunisia’s democratic uprising earlier this year.
Abdelwahab El-Heni, leader of the Al-Majd party which opposes the Tunisian regime, told AFP that “”the police entered the mosque where the protestors were carrying out their sit-in and violently attacked the demonstrators.”
“It’s a peaceful demonstration which did not merit any violence,” added El-Heni who spent 20 years in exile. He said he would lodge a formal complaint with the interior ministry.
The ministry in a statement said the security forces intervened to “disperse a group of people who were throwing rocks towards the Kasbah square (government headquarters), damaging vehicles and injuring citizens.”
Ziad, a young teacher who travelled some 120 kilometres (70 miles) from Kelibia for the protest, said those present “came here to stage a peaceful demonstration.”
“We have nothing against you,” he shouted at police.
“Our demands are simple: the sacking of the interior and justice ministers, sanctions against the masterminds of killings and redress for the victims,” he added.
An unprecedented popular uprising led to the January ouster of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, one of the world’s most entrenched dictators, but youth groups have been critical of the new administration’s performance since then.
Armoured vehicles formed a tight cordon around the ministries, locked in a tense standoff with swarms of young protestors wearing bandanas and T-shirts bearing pro-democracy slogans.
“We do not want the fall of the government but it has to stop bringing Ben Ali cronies back into the fold,” Ziad shouted from an improvised stage.
“No-one can take the people’s revolution away,” a veiled young woman said.
Meanwhile in Ben Guerdane, a southern coastal town near the Libyan border, a group of young unemployed graduates who have been demonstrating for weeks staged a symbolic “general strike”, union leader Houssine Betaieb told AFP.
The demonstrators claimed a “right to employment” and complained that the government has failed to deliver.