Protests in Tunisian town show anger at Islamist govt

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The shift to slogans against the Islamists has seemed to wrong-foot the government, which has been absorbed with violent disputes between conservative Salafi Islamists and liberals over the future direction of a once staunchly secular state.

The protests are the fiercest since Salafis attacked the U.S. embassy in Tunis in September over an anti-Islam film made in California, in violence that left four people dead.

They also mirror conflict in Egypt, where secularists have mobilized in recent weeks against post-Arab Spring Islamist rulers whom they accuse of doing little to reform security policies and treating non-Islamists with disdain.

Leftist opponents of Ennahda have been a clear presence on the ground in Siliana, though most protesters seemed to be apolitical youth angry over their economic prospects.

“The government is reproducing the behaviour of Ben Ali’s regime,” said Iyad Dahmani from the centre-left Republican Party.

“It’s an arrogant government that thinks its election victory means it can use tear gas and birdshot on people instead of giving them jobs and investment.”

The Western-backed government secured international funding last week for an economy suffering from the financial crisis in the European Union, Tunisia’s main trading partner.

Clashes broke out again on Saturday between around 3,000 people throwing stones and security forces firing tear gas and live rounds into the air from inside armored vehicles.

Young men gathered outside the local branch of the UGTT, chanting the revolutionary songs of Sheikh Imam, a famed leftist cleric in 1970s Egypt.

One protester, a teacher who did not wish to be named, said she had voted for Ennahda last year but felt the Islamists had let people down.

“This is the paradise of Ennahda that we elected,” she said, grasping an empty tear gas canister. “This is what Ennahda has to offer us. We won’t make this mistake again.”

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