Tunis (Reuters) - Thousands of Tunisians protested against the Islamist-led government on Monday, exactly two years after the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt that inspired others across the Arab world.
More than 8,000 secular demonstrators gathered outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis’s Bourguiba Avenue, the same spot where protests forced Ben Ali to accept his rule was over and flee the country on January 14, 2011.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda party won elections in October 2011 but has struggled to restore security and stability.
Protesters are unhappy about unemployment and high prices as well as violence linked to religious elements.
They filled the capital’s central boulevard on Monday carrying banners that read “No fear, no horror, power belongs to the people” and “No to emerging dictatorship. No to religious dictatorship”.
Waving red and white Tunisian flags, they chanted: ”“Ennahda out” and “Where is the constitution? Where is democracy?”
Tunisians rose up against Ben Ali after street peddler Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in the town of Sidi Bouzid.
Unrest then convulsed much of the Arab world, ousting or challenging entrenched rulers in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, which is still mired in a civil war that the United Nations says has cost more than 60,000 lives.
“I was here two years ago in the same place. The dictator is gone and we got freedom of expression but we still face many difficulties such as outbreaks of violence, lack of security, the continuation of unemployment and the high cost of living,” Republican Party leader Maya Jribi told Reuters.
In the same street, about 2,000 supporters of the Islamic-led government gathered to celebrate the second anniversary of the revolution but there were no clashes between the two sides.
Hundreds of riot police took up positions in the street.
“The opposition is trying to frustrate the government and refuses dialogue or participation in any government,” Ahmed Salhi, a 45-year-old government supporter, told Reuters.
“Their only goal is not to see the Islamists rule Tunisia ”,
Tension has been growing between Islamists and secularists since the Ennahda Movement won the election.
Last month, hundreds of government supporters and leftists clashed in the capital, stoking fears about the success of the transition to democracy.
Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Angus MacSwan