TUNIS: Tens of thousands of Tunisians marched in support of their embattled government on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) as opposition protesters renewed calls for the Islamist-led administration to step down, heightening a crisis sparked by a political assassination.
The ruling Ennahda party claimed that 200,000 people turned out for the mass rally in Kasbah square in the capital Tunis although police offered no turnout figures.
The protest, by far the biggest yet staged in support of the government since the crisis erupted, attracted a wide range of people including several families, waving Tunisian and Ennahda flags but also symbols of the Salafist movement.
The crowd chanted slogans including “legitimacy,” “the people want Ennahda” and “God is greatest” in support of the ruling party, which organized the rally in response to growing calls for it to step aside.
Ennahda party leader Rashid Ghannouchi told the crowd: “Those who thought that the Egyptian scenario could be repeated here were all wrong.”
“Tunisia was an inspiration with its revolution and it will not import a coup,” said Ghannouchi, in reference to the Egyptian army’s July 3 deposing of the country’s president.
Tunisia has been gripped by a political crisis since the assassination in February of opposition politician Chokri Belaid.
The crisis was further stoked by the killing of MP Mohamed Brahmi, who was shot dead outside his home in a Tunis suburb on July 25.
A coalition of opposition parties called for a rally on Tuesday to demand the departure of the Islamist-led government and the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly.
The parties chose the date for their planned march to fall exactly six months after Belaid’s assassination.
Ennahda has rejected mounting calls from its detractors who are urging it to quit for failing to prevent the murders of Belaid and Brahmi, and for its inability to rein in radical Islamists.
At a news conference earlier, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh stressed the need for “national unity” and reiterated that his government would not step down.
His party, which emerged victorious in the October 2011 elections, has proposed to enlarge the coalition government.