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Tunisians rally to call for Ennahda-led government's resignation

Thousands of Tunisians have been demonstrating to call for the resignation of the country's Islamist-led government. Negotiations to find a way to end a political deadlock look set to continue into next week.

The first day of a planned week-long campaign against the government led by the Islamist Ennahda began on Saturday with a protest that brought thousands to the streets of the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

Demonstrators headed for the national assembly and protested outside, chanting slogans such as "The people want the fall of the regime," and "Get out!"

While police checked people's bags, there was no repeat of previous confrontations, which have resulted in the use of tear gas.

The opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) blames Ennahda for the murders of secular politicians Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, claiming that it has not done enough to rein in the hardline Salafist movement. It also complains that the party is intent on accumulating too much power over state institutions and that it has a record of failure on both the economy and security.

"The opposition is determined to say no to any negotiations before the current government is dissolved," said member of the left-of-center Al-Massar party Karima Souid.

"We call for a government of public salvation to manage the country's affairs and carry out free and fair elections, without fear."

The powerful trade union UGTT has been acting as a mediator between the opposition group and the Islamists, led by Ennahda chairman Rached Ghannouchi , in an effort to break the impasse. The negotiations have so far failed to have any impact. The NSF has even described talks thus far as a "waste of time" until the government agrees to relinquish power.

The Islamist party, which won the largest share of votes at elections in October 2011, on Thursday said it was prepared to make way for a caretaker government, led by a member of his party, to oversee new elections. However, it stressed that a "national dialogue" that would bring together supporters and opponents of the ruling coalition needed to take place first.

Saturday's protest comes amid political turmoil in nearby Egypt, where the army overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last month after millions of protesters took to the streets demanding that he step down.

rc/jm (APAFP, Reuters)