Tunisian president slams violence at demonstration

TUNIS, Cecile Feuillatre- Riot police on Monday fired tear gas and baton-charged protestors who defied a demonstration ban in Tunisia's capital, prompting President Moncef Marzouki to denounce what he termed "unacceptable violence" from both sides.
At least 15 civilians and eight policemen were hurt as a result of clashes that went on for several hours, the worst outbreak of violence in months in Tunis, according to hospital sources and the interior ministry.

Tunisian president slams violence at demonstration
"Such a degree of violence is unacceptable," Marzouki said on national television, laying the blame both on protestors who tried to rally on an avenue that has been banned to demonstrations and on the way police dispersed them.
"I deeply regret that peaceful protestors were injured," Marzouki said, deploring "the unacceptable standoff between the state that has banned demonstrations on (Habib) Bourguiba Avenue and those who deliberately violated the ban."
But he also stressed that the government had his full support.
Several hundred demonstrators, responding to protest calls made over social networks, had turned up on Bourguiba Avenue Monday, a day known as Martyrs' Day which commemorates the bloody crackdown by French colonial troops on a protest in Tunis on April 9, 1938.
Wrapped in Tunisian flags and shouting "we're not afraid, the people are here", the demonstrators sought shelter in neighbouring streets and shops when police in trucks and on motorbikes repeatedly charged them.
"I'm here to honour our martyrs, and to protest against the ban on demonstrating here. We're the ones who freed Tunisia, they don't have the right to ban our peaceful marches," said septuagenarian protester Mohsen Ben Henda.
Other demonstrators said they were protesting against Ennahda, which emerged as the biggest party after an October election, the first democratic vote since the Arab Spring uprising that ousted ex-strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
"We came here today to demand our freedoms, to denounce the repression that Ennahda militias inflict on us every day," said Raed Korbi, a young doctor who had taken refuge in a cafe.
"What's happening today is terrible," said a woman who gave her name only as Yamina and said she was a lawyer, tears welling in her eyes.
"We are peaceful people and they bar us from using Habib Bourguiba Avenue, but they gave it to the Salafists," she said, referring to a Muslim fundamentalist group.
Tunisia banned demonstrations on Bourguiba Avenue, a symbol of the poplar uprising and a common site for rallies, after Islamist protestors demanding sharia law attacked a group of actors last month.
On Saturday, police forcefully dispersed a protest by thousands of unemployed graduates who tried to march on the avenue, wounding about 20, according to organisers.
"I'm shocked," former Tunisian Human Rights League chief Mokhtar Trifi told AFP. "The people whom the revolution swept to power are now those who stop us from demonstrating. This is a really sad day."
"Look, this is the free Tunisia, the Tunisia of Ennahda," shouted another demonstrator.
A correspondent for French news weekly Le Point and the editor of Tunisian online news service Kapitalis were roughed up by police.
The leftist Ettakatol party which is allied with Ennahda in parliament called for a probe.
"We have called for an investigation into abuse to be carried out without delay," party spokesman Mohamed Bennour told AFP.
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche defended the demonstration ban, saying: "We will not let chaos take over."
He said police fired tear gas to avoid worse violence after demonstrators pelted them with objects, adding that a firebomb had destroyed a police car.
Addressing Ennahda supporters later in the day at a former prison site outside the city centre, Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the Islamist party, urged Tunisians to "be patient".
"Give the current government a chance. One has to be patient, it's the first elected government, they must be helped," he said.
"It's impossible to correct in just a year what was destroyed in 50. The state we inherited is like a rotten hut which needs to be pulled down and cleaned up," he added.

Monday, April 9th 2012
Cecile Feuillatre

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