Tunisia braces for rival demonstrations marking national women’s day

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Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party and the opposition have called for rival demonstrations for Tuesday to mark national women’s day, after a month of increasing divisions in the country.

Critics of the Islamist government are calling for demonstrations on Tuesday to defend women’s rights and a march outside parliament, where the opposition has protested nightly since the July 25 assassination of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi.

Talks between Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi and Houcine Abassi, head of the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), to discuss the divisions in the country broke down overnight without any resolution.

Ghannouchi said the talks were “positive and constructive,” but Abassi saw “no change [in Ennahda’s] attitude.”

“This will be a historic demonstration given the difficult circumstances the country is going through: political killings, terrorism and attempts to roll back women’s rights,” UGTT official Najoua Makhlouf told a news conference.

Tuesday is the 57th anniversary of the Tunisia’s Personal Status Code that was adopted on August 13, 1956, granting Tunisian women rights unequalled in the Arab world at the time.

Critics of Ennahda accuse the Islamists of putting these rights under threat.

Amel Radhouani, from the Femmes Libres (Free Women) group said the march would send a clear message to the Islamists in power.

“This will not be a celebration but a march against terrorism, and Ennahda’s attempts to take back women’s gains,” Radhouani told AFP agency.

Ennahda has been criticized for not taking action against radical imams who have called for the return of polygamy and child brides - traditions banned in Tunisia under the 1956 law.

The party drew further criticism last year when it called for equality to be replaced in Tunisia’s post-revolution constitution by “complementarity” of the genders.

Ennahda denies accusations it is against women’s rights and called on its supporters to gather from 1500 GMT on Tuesday in the capital’s Habib Bourguiba Avenue, hub of the 2011 uprising that toppled former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The party said its rally would be held under the slogan: “Tunisia’s women, pillars of the democratic transition and national unity.”

(With AFP)

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