TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian police with teargas and batons broke up a protest to demand the resignation of the government on Friday in the most violent confrontation for weeks with pro-democracy demonstrators.
Tensions rose in the North African country on Thursday after a former minister suggested there could be a coup by loyalists of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali if Islamists win an election in July.
Protesters said that had undermined their confidence in Tunisia’s interim administration and they believed members of the former regime could be meddling behind the scenes.
“We are here to demand the departure of this government, which is dishonest,” said Sonia Briki, one of the hundreds of protesters in the center of Tunis. “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 former interior minister Farhat Rajhi said there could be a coup by Ben Ali loyalists if Islamists won the election. Tunisia’s main Islamist group, Ennahda, 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.