Tension mounts as rival protesters clash in Tunisia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 2:12am

Pro- and anti-government protesters clashed in two Tunisian cities yesterday, witnesses said, as tensions rose over opposition efforts to oust the Islamist-led government.

Opposition groups tried to storm municipal offices in Sidi Bouzid and stop employees there from working, residents said, sparking clashes between them and supporters of the Islamist Ennahda party, which leads the transitional government.

The army intervened to protect the offices and police fired tear gas, but residents said thousands of demonstrators were still gathering in the southern city, the cradle of the revolt that overthrew president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

"Now many of the protesters are coming in carrying batons and it looks like the situation is going to escalate because both sides are standing firm," said one resident, Mahdi al-Hurshani.

Tunisians fear they may be plunging into one of the worst crises in their political transition since Ben Ali was forced to flee by an uprising that inspired unrest across the Arab world.

The secular opposition, angered by the second assassination in its ranks in six months and emboldened by the Egyptian army's ousting of an Islamist president this month, is rejecting all concessions and reconciliation efforts by the government.

The unrest has erupted just weeks before the transitional Constituent Assembly was set to complete a draft of a new constitution. The opposition demands the 217-member body be dissolved. Seventy lawmakers have left it and set up a sit-in outside the assembly offices in Tunis.