Tunisian police use water cannons during protests

Tunisian police used water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters trying to reach central Tunis to demonstrate against the president in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions.

A heavy police presence prevented protesters from congregating on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main street in central Tunis that is the traditional focus of protests, especially during the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.

Police then tried to break up several different groups of protesters, at least one of which numbered in the hundreds, witnesses said.

Opposition parties, including moderate Islamist Ennahda, are protesting President Kais Saied’s suspension of parliament, his accession to executive power and attempts to rewrite the constitution which they call a coup.

Dozens of police cars were in the area and two water cannons were placed in front of the Interior Ministry building on the same street.

Friday’s protest goes against a ban on all indoor or outdoor gatherings that the government announced on Tuesday to stem a wave of COVID-19.

“Today, Saied’s only response to opponents is force and security forces (…) it’s so sad to see Tunisia as barracks on the date of our revolution,” said Chayma Issa, an opposition activist.

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 to prevent protests.

Although Saied’s action in July seemed 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, little progress has been made in garnering international support for fragile public finances, and the Saied government appointed in September announced an unpopular 2022 budget.

Friday falls on what Tunisians previously marked as the anniversary of the revolution, the day 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 death sparked the uprising.

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