News / Africa

Tunisian Riot Police Break Up Second Day of Protests

Tunisian police officers disperse hundreds of demonstrators during clashes in Tunis, May 5, 2011
Tunisian police officers disperse hundreds of demonstrators during clashes in Tunis, May 5, 2011

Tunisian police fired tear gas and clashed with crowds of protesters demanding the resignation of the country's caretaker government on Friday.

Protesters took to the streets of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, for the second day, chanting they want "a new revolution."  Demonstrators say they believe members of ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's government could be meddling in the country's current affairs.

Media reports say security forces also assaulted journalists and confiscated their cameras.

Tensions rose in the north African nation Thursday after the former interior minister warned Ben Ali loyalists could be plotting a coup. In a video posted late Wednesday on the social networking site Facebook, former Cabinet minister Farhat Rajhi predicted "there will be a coup d'etat" if the Islamists win Tunisia's elections in July.

The government distanced itself from Rajhi's comments, but not before protesters had taken to the streets.

Ennahda - Tunisia's main Islamist group - was banned under Ben Ali.  Political analysts say it could do well in the elections, particularly in the conservative south, where frustration over poverty and unemployment is widespread.  

Rajhi, who briefly served as interior minister after the revolution, said the "people of the coast are not disposed to give up power." "People of the coast" is a reference to Ben Ali loyalists whose power base is in and around the former leader's hometown, the coastal city of Sousse.

Popular discontent over widespread unemployment and official corruption led to an uprising in January that resulted in Ben Ali's resignation.  He fled to exile in Saudi Arabia with much of his extended family. Continued protests since have forced several reshuffles of the Tunisian Cabinet.

The former president's overthrow has revived tensions between pro-Islamists and anti-Islamists in the North African country. The July 24 vote is for an assembly that will draft a new constitution.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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