Tunisian government under pressure after crackdown

Tunisia’s interior minister is to face questions in parliament after Monday’s police crackdown on protesters prompted a public outcry and raised pressure on the Islamist-led government.

Police used tear gas and batons to disperse stone-throwing protesters who stormed Tunis’ Habib Bourguiba Avenue on Monday, in defiance of a ban on rallies in a street that was a focal point of protests that ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last year

“Black Monday”, “fascist behavior” and “savagery” were among the harsh comments after some of the worst violence since last year’s revolution.

At least 15 civilians and eight policemen were hurt as riot police on Monday fired tear gas and baton-charged protesters who had turned out in their hundreds on a main avenue in Tunis despite a ban on demonstrations there.

The fallout has presented the government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda in coalition with two secular groups, one of the biggest challenges of its four-month rule.

Politicians and activists from the secular opposition have compared the police tactics to Ben Ali’s police state, when freedom was severely curtailed. Some labeled it “Black Monday”.

Even the president and the parliament speaker, both coalition allies of Ennahda, have called for an inquiry, a demand echoed by the Islamist party itself on Tuesday.

Parliament Speaker Mustafa Ben Jafar set a session for Thursday to discuss the “acts of violence” that he said had also seen members of parliament get physically hurt.

“We condemn the use of violence against peaceful protests and regard this as a dangerous breach of human rights and a violation of public and individual liberties,” the Tunisian League of Human Rights, which took part in the protest, said in a statement.

The protesters had used the April 9 anniversary of the 1938 repression of pro-independence protests by French colonial troops to challenge the ban on demonstrations in Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

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