Thousands rally to support embattled Tunisia government


By Tarek Amara and Erika Solomon, Reuters

TUNIS – Tens of thousands of Tunisians came out in a show of force for the country’s Islamist-led government on Saturday, in one of the largest demonstrations since the 2011 revolution.

Supporters of the ruling Ennahda party crowded into Kasbah Square next to the prime minister’s office in the capital, Tunis. Ennahda officials said more than 150,000 attended. Fireworks flashed overhead and red Tunisian flags fluttered over a sea of demonstrators.

“No to coups, yes to elections,” the crowd shouted, in a reference to the army-backed ouster of Egypt’s elected Islamist president last month.

The secular opposition is stepping up efforts to oust the transition government in the North African country. At the same time, security forces are struggling to fight off a spike in attacks by radical Islamist militants, whom the moderate Islamist Ennahda has condemned as terrorists.

The country, once considered a model among fledgling “Arab Spring” democracies, is facing its worst crisis since Tunisians toppled autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and set off a wave of uprisings across the region.

The opposition, angered by the assassination of two of its figures and emboldened by the backlash against deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, has been protesting daily.

Across the capital, around 10,000 opposition protesters rallied against the government. They vowed a mass march on Sunday and an even bigger rally on Wednesday to mark the death of politician Chokri Belaid, who was gunned down six months ago.

‘COUNTER-REVOLUTION WILL NOT SUCCEED’ Ennahda party chief Rachid Ghannouchi joined the throngs of demonstrators at the pro-government rally and gave a defiant speech to wild cheers from the crowd.

“Tunisia is a candle whose revolution lit up the world but now they (the opposition) want to put it out by trying to set off a coup,” Ghannouchi said.

“The counter-revolution will not succeed.”