Hundreds demonstrate in Tunisia protesting comments made by ex-minister regarding a possible coup if Islamists win, police disperse demo violently.
Riot police in Tunisia violently broke up a demonstration in central Tunis by about 200 people calling for the resignation of the transitional government and “a new revolution”.
The demonstrators who yelled slogans such as “Get out!” and “The government still works for (ousted president Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali” faced off for 20 minutes against a police cordon on the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
Then suddenly, the police charged and threw large quantities of tear gas, causing panic among the demonstrators, mainly youths, and pedestrians who were in the neighbourhood and tried to flee for shelter.
Shops pulled their blinds down.
Some police were on motorbikes, some had dogs and even a light armoured car was on the avenue.
Tunisia’s interim rulers have promised an election in July for an assembly that will draw up a new constitution.
But tensions rose on Thursday, when former interior minister Farhat Rajhi said there could be a coup by Ben Ali loyalists if Islamists won the election. Tunisia’s main Islamist group, Ennahda, is expected to do well in some regions.
The government distanced itself from Rajhi’s comments, but not before protesters had gathered in Tunis and in provincial cities to demand its resignation.
“If the Islamist movement Ennahda (Renaissance) wins the next elections, the regime will be military,” Rajhi said in a video posted on Facebook overnight Wednesday, which he confirmed Thursday on radio Express FM.
Going back on his position, he said Friday that he did not intend “to create a climate of tension during this particular period” of political transition in the north African country.
Some said the government was trying to use the threat of a coup to derail steps to democracy.
A common thread running through uprisings across the Arab world sparked by the one in Tunisia has been unease among secularists and in the West about whether democracy will open the door to Islamic rule.