Tunisia police fill city center ahead of protest in defiance of COVID-19 rules

Tunisia police fill city center ahead of protest in defiance of COVID-19 rules

Hundreds of Tunisian police surrounded a central area of the capital on Friday ahead of a planned protest against the president called in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions.

Opposition parties including the Islamist 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.

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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)

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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