Tunisian police clash with protesters

Police break up protests in central Tunis as dozens call for "a new revolution" after politician warns of risk of coup.

    Tunisia's former minister has called for calm after causing an outcry by saying a "military coup d'etat" is possible [AFP]

    Tunisian police have used tear gas and batons to break up protests demanding the resignation of the government in the most violent confrontation for weeks with pro-democracy demonstrators.

    A demonstration in central Tunis by about 200 people on Friday called for the resignation of the transitional government and "a new revolution".

    The demonstrators, yelling slogans such as "Get out!" and "The government still works for [ousted president Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali", faced off for 20 minutes against a police cordon on the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

    The police then charged, firing tear gas canisters and causing panic among demonstrators, mainly youths, and pedestrians who were in the neighbourhood and tried to flee for shelter.

    Public outcry

    Farhat Rajhi, Tunisia's former minister of the interior, called for calm earlier on Friday after causing an outcry with his statement that a "coup d'etat" could take place in the country.

    "I have called for calm on Tunisian radios. My statements were purely hypothetical and not directed at anybody and I am not responsible for interpretations," Rahji told the AFP news agency.

    Protesters said the statement had undermined their confidence in the North African country's interim administration and raised suspicions that members of the former regime could be meddling behind the scenes.

    "We are here to demand the departure of this government, which is dishonest," Sonia Briki, one of the hundreds of protesters in the centre of Tunis, said.

    "Everything is clear now. We want them to step down so we can have a government whose members are just at the service of the people."

    Police beat photographers with batons and confiscated cameras as they tried to cover the protest.

    Tunisia's interim rulers have promised an election in July for an assembly that will draw up a new constitution.

    But tensions rose when Rajhi said there could be a coup by Ben Ali loyalists if Islamists won the election. Tunisia's main Islamist group, al-Nahda, is expected to do well in some regions.

    The government distanced itself from Rajhi's comments, but not before protesters had gathered in Tunis and in provincial cities to demand its resignation.

    Some said the government was trying to use the threat of a coup to derail steps to democracy.

    A common thread running through uprisings across the Arab world sparked by the one in Tunisia has been unease among secularists and in the West about whether democracy will open the door to Islamic rule.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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