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Tunisia: Protesters mark 2011 uprising despite ban

January 14, 2022

Police fired tear gas and water cannons as demonstrators defied coronavirus restrictions and took to the streets to protest President Kais Saied's grip on power.

Protesters hold the Tunisian flag as they stand in front of security forces
Friday's protests saw heavy security presence as the opposition had said they would demonstrate despite a banImage: Yassine Gaidi/AA/picture alliance

Tunisian police on Friday used tear gas and water cannons against protesters demonstrating against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis. 

Hundreds of protesters gathered despite restrictions imposed the day before to curb the spread of COVID infections. 

Friday marks 11 years since the fall of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which started the so-called Arab Spring, a wave of uprisings toppling dictators in the Middle East. 

However, Saied decreed last year that the anniversary would instead fall on the December date of a street vendor's suicide that triggered the uprising.

Tunisian police use water cannon to disperse protests
Police tried to disperse protesters as they marched toward Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the stage for protests since the 2011 uprising Image: Yassine Gaidi/AA/picture alliance

Protests against the president

Protesters on Friday chanted slogans like "down with the coup," referring to Saied's sacking of the government and freezing parliament last July.

Some Tunisians welcomed his moves. But his opponents, the powerful moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, have been particularly angered. 

Ennahdha supporters view Saied's move as a power takeover, reminiscent of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi's crackdown on the Islamist opposition. 

"Preventing free Tunisians from protesting on the revolution anniversary is shameful... and is an attack on freedoms and represents a big decline under the coup authorities," said Imed Khemiri, an Ennahda member of the suspended parliament. 

In a statement, the party "strongly" condemned the use of power against peaceful protesters.

"Today Saied's only response to opponents is with force and the security forces... it is so sad to see Tunisia like a barracks on the date of our revolution," said Chayma Issa, an opposition activist.

What are the COVID restrictions in Tunisia? 

On Thursday, Tunisian authorities brought in a string of measures to curb a steep rise in coronavirus infections.

The restrictions include a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time. The presidency also ordered "the postponement or cancellation of all public gatherings or demonstrations, in closed or open spaces."

Opposition parties, including Ennahda, said the move was politically motivated and insisted on protesting on Friday. 

After its third COVID wave last summer, Tunisia's daily COVID infections record had been in the low hundreds throughout December. But on Monday, the cases topped 4,800 a day. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, the country of 12 million has roughly six million people fully vaccinated against COVID

fb/wd (AFP, Reuters, AP)