Tunisian police used tear gas to break up a fourth day of anti-government protests by scores of youths in the centre of Tunis.
The North African country has struggled to restore stability since leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted earlier this year in a revolution which inspired uprisings across the Arab world.
Chanting protesters called for the departure of the government and Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi, whistling at black-clad riot police in central Tunis and throwing stones, Reuters reports.
Police fired teargas to push the protesters into streets off the central Avenue Bourguiba.
“We only intervene when they throw stones, not when they insult us,” said one plain clothes officer, holding out a broken padlock he said the protesters had thrown.
“The police have to adapt to the new environment as well. Four months is not long enough to change everyone’s mentality,” he said.
Tension is growing in Tunisia in the countdown to a July election for an assembly that will draw up a new constitution.
MODERATE ISLAMIST GROUP
A moderate Islamist group banned under Ben Ali is expected to do well, unsettling many in the country’s secular establishment.
The spark for the violent protests over the past few days was a warning from a former interior minister that there would be a coup d’etat if the Islamist group, Ennahda, won the vote.
“The police reaction is too extreme against the people,” said Chaqib, a civil servant who did not want to give his family name. “It’s true there are criminals among the protesters, but the reaction is still too cruel. It is a return to the days of Ben Ali.”
Sunday’s protest was smaller than those on the previous three days.
Protesters fear the interim administration will renege on its commitment to guide Tunisia towards democracy after decades of autocratic rule under Ben Ali.
The authorities — who reject any suggestion there will be a coup — responded to the protests by imposing an overnight curfew starting on Saturday. They said it was to ensure the safety of citizens.
Some Tunisians condemn the renewed demonstrations and want to see a return to normality in the country of 10 million, where the turmoil and war in neighbouring Libya are expected to cut economic growth to little over one percent this year.
“Those who are demonstrating are those from the lowest level who have nothing to lose,” complained businessman Moez Hlcheri. “You can’t have everything immediately. You have to work for it.”