Thousands of Tunisians opposing President Kais Saied’s seizure of almost total power have protested in the capital with a very heavy police presence trying to stop them advancing along the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
A week after thousands demonstrated in support of Saied, the growing number of protesters on each side raises the possibility of Tunisia’s political divisions spiralling into street confrontations between the two camps.
Last week, more than 8,000 demonstrators rallied in Tunis in support of Saied, Reuters journalists and the state news agency said, while the interior ministry said about 5,000 had attended. The next day, Saied said 1.8 million people had come out to back him.
Despite checkpoints and security screening of protesters, more than 5,000 rallied on Sunday.
A police source said at least 3,000 had gathered at the start of the rally, and the crowd kept growing. Witnesses later said more than 5,000 people were flowing towards Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in central Tunis.
“The people against the coup d’etat”, “Raise your voice, the revolution is not dead”, the anti-Saied demonstrators called, waving red-and-white Tunisian flags.
Many identified as supporters of the Ennahdha party, the biggest in the now-suspended parliament.
Helmeted, black-clad riot police were deployed, and demonstrators were forbidden from entering a stretch of Bourguiba Avenue.
“The rally is blocked,” and “shame on you,” one voice in the crowd called.
“We will not accept the coup. Enough is enough,” said protester Yassin ben Amor.
In July, Saied dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority in moves his foes call a coup.
Last month, he brushed aside much of the constitution, which he said he would appoint a committee to amend, adding that he could rule by decree.
His intervention has cast into doubt the democratic gains made by Tunisians during a 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring uprisings.
He appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, but she has not yet named a government.
Saied said he would initiate a dialogue with the Tunisian people and youth representatives, particularly from the regions, over the future during a meeting on Saturday with the interim interior minister, Ridha Gharsallaoui.