Tunisia forces fire in air, fail to end rally


Tens of thousands of people defied security forces to rally in the Tunisian capital calling for a new interim government, a Reuters witness said.

It was the second straight day of mass protests in the North African country’s main city, in defiance of a government ban on rallies, after a lull following the popular uprising last month which overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

As many as 40,000 marchers gathered in front of the prime minister’s building in downtown Tunis shouting slogans such as “Leave!” and “We don’t want the friends of Ben Ali!” Others were demanding pay rises, Reuters reports.

Security forces fired several times in the air, while two military helicopters circled over the rally, a Reuters reporter said. The protesters remained in place and there was no sign that anyone had been wounded.

More than a month after Ben Ali’s departure — which inspired a wave of protests across the Arab world — some Tunisians accuse the caretaker government of failing to provide security amid a surge in crime, and doing little to help the poor.
“They’re all liars,” said a protester who identified himself only as Mokthar. “There’s no security. There’s nothing but words,” he said, adding that he had no job.

Tunisia’s interim government, whose main task is to set elections to replace Ben Ali, has already undergone several changes after protesters in late January demanded a purge of former regime loyalists.

The Interior Ministry said on Saturday that mass demonstrations remained forbidden under state of emergency laws and protesters could be arrested.

More than 15,000 protesters had clogged central Tunis on Saturday, most of them chanting anti-Islamist slogans after the murder of a priest the government blamed on “a group of terrorist fascists with extremist tendencies”, and a series of Islamist protests against brothels.

Ben Ali, who came to power in 1987, had outlawed Islamism and was seen as repressive and corrupt by many Tunisians. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he is in ill health.

Elections to replace him are expected in July or August.