Tens of thousands rally to oust Tunisian government

By Tarek Amara, Reuters

TUNIS – Tens of thousands of Tunisians crowded the streets of downtown Tunis on Tuesday to demand the transitional government’s ouster, in the largest opposition protest since the country’s political crisis began two weeks ago.

The secular opposition, angered by two assassinations in its ranks and emboldened by the army-backed toppling of Egypt’s Islamist president, is trying to topple Tunisia’s government led by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

It also wants to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, which is weeks away from finishing a draft constitution and election law.

In a surprise move that could tip the balance in the opposition’s favor, the head of the Constituent Assembly suspended the body, saying it would not resume work until the government and its rivals held talks. Assemblyman and ruling party member Najib Mrad called the move an “unacceptable coup.”

Tunisia is facing the worst political turmoil since autocratic ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled. The crisis has been compounded by growing instability as Islamist militants step up their attacks.

“The people want the fall of the regime,” shouted crowds crammed into Bardo Square, using the same slogan they popularized when Tunisians ousted Ben Ali in 2011 and sparked a wave of uprisings across the Arab world.

Tuesday’s opposition protests mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid, one of the two opposition figures shot dead in recent months.

“This proves the desire for liberation from Brotherhood rule will not be broken,” Belaid’s widow, Basma Belaid, said, comparing Ennahda to Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood.

In June, the Egyptian army responded to mass opposition protests by deposing and detaining the president and launching a crackdown and arrest campaign against Brotherhood figures.

“This is a message to end their rule, from which we have only seen disasters such as violence and assassinations,” Belaid’s widow said.