Tunis – More than 5 000 Tunisians rallied on Sunday against a presidential power grab in the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.
Despite checkpoints and security screening of protesters, it was the biggest in a series of Sunday rallies in central Tunis both pro and against the actions of President Kais Saied.
On July 25, after months of political stalemate, Saied sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and granted himself judicial powers, a move he followed up in September with measures that effectively allow the president to rule by decree.
A police source said at least 3 000 had gathered at the start of the rally, and the crowd kept growing. Witnesses later said more than 5 000 people were flowing toward Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in central Tunis.
The size of Sunday’s rally exceeded that of an estimated 2 000 who demonstrated against Saied’s “coup d’etat” two weeks earlier on Bourguiba Avenue.
On October 3, an estimated 3 000 people rallied on the same avenue in support of the president, and local media reported that about 2 000 other pro-Saied supporters demonstrated elsewhere in the North African country.
“The people against the coup d’etat,” “Raise your voice, the revolution is not dead,” the anti-Saied demonstrators called, waving red-and-white Tunisian flags.
Many identified as supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which was the biggest in the now-suspended parliament.
Some complained to AFP about alleged police intimidation to prevent them moving forward.
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Helmeted, black-clad riot police were deployed, and demonstrators were forbidden from entering a stretch of Bourguiba Avenue.
“The rally is blocked,” and “shame on you,” one voice in the crowd called.
Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings, with the resignation of the country’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Although Saied’s July measures enjoyed significant public support, civil society groups have warned of a drift away from democracy.
Picture: Getty Images