Tunisian opposition defies ban on protests, anti-presidential rallies | News

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Hundreds of opposition supporters march through the streets to demand the resignation of President Kais Saied.

Hundreds of opposition supporters in Tunisia have defied a ban on protest and demanded the release of more than 20 prominent figures against the recently arrested president weeks.

Before the protesters broke through a police barrier to rally on Sunday in central Tunis, the police warned them by loudspeaker that their demonstration was illegal but would not stop them by force.

Up to 1,000 protesters then pushed through the cordon to reach Habib Bourguiba Avenue, where most rallies would take place.

The National Salvation Front coalition brings together the largest party in Tunisia, Ennahdha, the Stop the Coup movement and some other political parties calling for the resignation of President Kais Saied.

Sunday’s protest is being watched to see how far the National Salvation Front and its constituent parts of supporters can mobilize in public after the arrests, and with what level of force the police willing to use it against them.

A former member of the Tunisian parliament, Saida Ounissi, told Al Jazeera that what makes the recent protests unique to other anti-government rallies that have taken place is “the popularity of the movement “.

“This is the second day of protests and we are surprised by the number of average citizens who protest and face the threat of violence by going out into the streets and demanding freedom,” said i.

Tunisian Freedom Supporters
Supporters of the Tunisian Salvation Front coalition movement protest the arrest of some of its leaders and other prominent critics of the president, in Tunis, Tunisia [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

In recent weeks, a number of key leaders of the Front have been arrested, as part of a crackdown on prominent critics of Saied, and charged with conspiracy against state security. This week, the governor of Tunis refused permission for a protest on Sunday.

The opposition accuses Saied of a coup for suddenly seizing broad powers in 2021, shutting down the elected parliament and moving to rule by decree before writing a new constitution that took it passed in a referendum last year that had little attendance.

Saied says his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, and has called his enemies criminals, traitors and “terrorists”, urging the authorities to take action against them.

The recent arrests also targeted the head of Tunisia’s main independent media, two judges, a labor union official and a prominent businessman, showing police are ready to target critics Said from across the political spectrum.

However, the opposition to Saied is divided along ideological and political lines drawn during the democratic government after the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring.

On Saturday, the powerful UGTT labor union and allied parties staged their own protest, bringing thousands of supporters to the streets against Saied in what appeared to be the largest demonstration against him to date.

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