Tunisian security forces unleash water cannon on Revolution Day protesters

Demonstrators across the political spectrum defied a ban on gatherings

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Tunisia's security forces clashed with hundreds of protesters calling for the removal of President Kais Saied in central Tunis on Friday, the 11th anniversary of the day the country's former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country.

Despite a ban on gatherings put in place nominally to tamp down on the spread of the new Omicron variant, groups of protesters from across the political spectrum gathered near the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the central thoroughfare in Tunis, to voice their discontent over what they say is a return to authoritarianism.

“The situation cannot continue,” a group from the centrist Jomhouri party shouted. “Yesterday was Ben Ali, today it's Kais Saied!”

One protester, Farida, her faced covered by a KN95 mask, said she was furious the president was rewriting the constitution on his own.

“He's using the people's money to fund a referendum and he's not consulting with the community in a meaningful way. Those are the signs of authoritarianism,” she said.

At a small rally held by the socialist Workers Party, Wael Nawar, a member of the party's central committee, said” “Saied's brand of populism is not working for the people.”

He pointed to rising inflation, stagnating wages and a faltering deal with the International Monetary Fund as proof.

“Before we can discuss any alternative to Saied, we must urgently cancel state debt and reform the tax structure, particularly for the wealthy” to set the economy right, he said.

Mr Saied's agenda has largely focused on rewriting the constitution after an e-plebiscite “consultation period” and a national referendum in July. He has yet to put forward a cohesive economic plan to cope with the national financial crisis.

The various groups converged near the city's central clock tower, shouting, “Constitution! Freedom! National Dignity!” before being blasted with water cannon — the first time security forces have responded in such a way during the Saied administration.

Police charged the protesters, forcing them into side streets where officers on motorcycles drove into the crowd and backfired their engines to mimic gunshots.

People ran for cover as officers began making arrests.

Under Mr Saied, the security apparatus, known for its brutality in the Ben Ali years, has seen little reform. Last April, the president declared himself the head of both the military and civilian security forces.

Since then, he has deployed both the army and national guard to manage challenging political situations, including barring members from entering Parliament after seizing sole control of the country in July and sending the army to settle protests during this summer's waste crisis.

Police attempt to disperse hundreds protesting in Tunis

Police attempt to disperse hundreds protesting in Tunis
Updated: January 15, 2022, 4:41 AM