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Tunisian police use tear gas to disperse violent Sidi Bouzid protests

Published: Updated:

Police used tear gas to break up violent protests late on Saturday in Tunisia’s southern town of Sidi Bouzid, Reuters reported.

Sidi Bouzid was the site of the first clashes in the 2011 revolution and hometown of assassinated secular opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi, whose funeral took place on Saturday.

Large protests have taken place throughout Tunisia since Brahmi’s death on Thursday. In Sidi Bouzid, witnesses told Reuters that protesters threw rocks at police.

“Hundreds of protesters lit tires on fire to block roads and they threw rocks at the police,” resident Mahdi al-Horshani told Reuters by telephone. “There is a lot of anger and frustration at the situation.”

Tension has escalated in Tunisia since Brahmi’s assassination which came just months after another secular opposition figure, Chokri Belaid, was killed.

Secular opposition groups immediately organized huge protests demanding the dissolution of the Islamist-led coalition government, whom they blame for both killings.

Their movement has been galvanized by the recent protests in Egypt which led to the military overthrow of democratically elected Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.

Seeking to avoid conflict in the highly charged atmosphere in Tunisia, particularly in the capital, secular parties in the coalition said they were in talks to achieve a new power-sharing deal with the ruling Islamist Ennahda party.

The spokesman for the Constituent Assembly, Tunisia’s transitional parliament which is in the process of drafting a constitution, said he expected a deal within a few hours.

“The trend now is to move towards expanding the base of power,” Mufdi al-Masady told a local radio station.

A new power-sharing deal between secular coalition partners and Ennahda could help ease the tension. But the protests appear to be increasingly confrontational.

Saturday night saw a face-off in Tunis between secular protesters demanding the dissolution of the government and Islamist protesters defending its legitimacy in one of the biggest sets of rival rallies yet in the capital, Reuters reported.

Opposition protesters carried signs saying: “Leave” and “We won’t leave before you do.”

Hundreds of Islamist protesters rallied at a mosque next to the secular protests, vowing to support the government.

No clashes were reported at the protests, but hundreds of police were standing on the sidelines, according to Reuters.

Earlier on Saturday, police fired teargas to break up secular protesters who gathered in front of parliament following Brahmi’s funeral.