Thousands of people marking the opening of the World Social Forum in Tunis, an alternative to the elite annual event held in Davos, have marched through the streets chanting pro-democracy and womens rights slogans.

Anarchists, ecologists, pacifists and trade unionists joined Sahrawi independence activists, veiled women and Arabs in traditional jellabas as they marched through the heart of the Tunisian capital at the start of the anti-globalisation event being held in an Arab country for the first time.

A carnival atmosphere reigned on Tuesday on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the epicentre of Tunisia's Jasmine revolution just over two years ago that sparked "Arab Spring" uprisings across the region.

About 30,000 individuals and 4,500 organisations are due to attend the five-day event, which casts itself as an alternative to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and will address a range of subjects from the environment to democratic governance and women's rights.

"The revolutionary processes, rebellions, uprisings, civil wars and protests" will be at the heart of the discussions, say the organisers, as will the social and economic problems behind the Arab Spring and the crisis in Europe.

Demonstrators also waved portraits of Tunisian secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, who was shot dead outside his home last month.

Before the revolution of January 2011, a meeting of the anti-globalisation event in Tunisia would have been "unthinkable", said Mohamed Jmour, a leader of Belaid's left-wing Democratic Patriots' Movement party.

"Thanks to the sacrifice of our people, we have made it happen."

Slogans were chanted in a medly of languages and by people from a wide range of nationalities on Tuesday, with one group of Japanese, dressed in yellow, calling for an end to armed conflict, as others demanded "Freedom for Palestine and Syria."

"Down with dictatorship, down with capital!" and "solidarity with women around the world!" rang the shouts of some protesters.

Source: Agencies