Tunisia police use water canon on protesters

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Tunisian police used water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters trying to reach central Tunis on Friday to demonstrate against the president in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions.

A heavy police presence prevented the protesters gathering in Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main street in central Tunis that is the traditional focal point of demonstrations including during the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.

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Police then tried to disperse several different groups of protesters, at least one of which had hundreds of demonstrators, witnesses said.

Opposition parties including the Ennahda are protesting against President Kais Saied’s suspension of parliament, assumption of executive power and moves to rewrite the constitution, which they call a coup.

Hours before the protest was due to begin, police had erected barricades and filled the area around the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, long the focus for demonstrations including during the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.

Dozens of police cars stood in the area and two water cannon were placed outside the Interior Ministry building, which is located on the same street.

Friday’s protest goes against a ban on all indoor or outdoor gatherings the government announced on Tuesday to stop a COVID-19 wave.

Ennahda and other parties taking part in the protest accused the government of introducing the ban and resuming its night curfew for political rather than health reasons as a way of preventing protests.

Police officers search the belongings of Tunisians in the capital Tunis, on January 14, 2022. (AFP)
Police officers search the belongings of Tunisians in the capital Tunis, on January 14, 2022. (AFP)

Though Saied’s intervention in July appeared to be very popular at first after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, analysts say he appears to have since lost some support.

Tunisia’s economy remains mired by the pandemic, there has been little progress in gaining international support for the fragile public finances and the government Saied appointed in September has announced an unpopular budget for 2022.

Friday falls on what Tunisians had previously marked as the anniversary of the revolution, the day the autocratic former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.

However, Saied decreed last year that instead of falling on the anniversary of Ben Ali’s departure into exile, it would be marked on the December anniversary of the self-immolation of a street vendor whose suicide triggered the uprising.

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