Thousands of Tunisians rally against president on revolution anniversary

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Protesters pushed through police barricades as they demonstrated against Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of near-total power in central Tunis on Saturday, the anniversary of a key date in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.

The opposition remains divided in its quest to push Saied from office and Saturday’s protests are split among several different groups that police said should demonstrate in separate, specified areas.

However, protesters said they planned to defy the police instructions and march towards the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the traditional site of rallies, and they pushed through barricades, a Reuters reporter there said.

“We were on Bourguiba in January 2011 when Saied was not present… today he is closing Bourguiba to us. We will reach it whatever the price,” said Chaima Issa, an activist who took part in the 2011 revolution.

Hundreds of protesters were present in just one of the locations where Reuters was present. A large police presence was visible outside the Interior Ministry building on Habib Bouguiba Avenue, along with water cannon.

Saied shut down the elected parliament in 2021 and began to reshape the political system, but low turnout for December’s election of a new, mostly powerless, legislature revealed little public appetite for his changes.

The main political forces, including most parties and the labour union, now oppose Saied’s project, with many of them calling it an anti-democratic coup.

However, they have failed to repair deep ideological and personal fissures that divided them for years rather than forming a united front.

Many parties still reject a role for the biggest party, the Islamist Ennahda. The powerful UGTT labour union seeks a national dialogue but will not invite any party that accuses Saied of a coup.

The protests come 12 years to the day after the ousting of former autocrat, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and Jan. 14 is seen by most Tunisian parties and civil society groups as the anniversary of the revolution.

However, Saied unilaterally changed the official anniversary date and has said he regards Jan. 14 as a moment when the revolution went astray.

While there has been no major crackdown on opponents of Saied, and police have allowed most protests against him, their handling of demonstrations on Jan. 14 last year was more forceful, prompting condemnation from rights activists.