Thousands of protesters gathered outside Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly on Saturday demanding the ouster of the Islamist-led government, amid political deadlock a month after the assassination of an opposition lawmaker.
“The people want the fall of the regime,” “Get out” and “[Rached] Ghannouchi assassin,” were some of the slogans chanted by the protesters, the latter referring to the ruling Islamist Ennahda Movement party’s veteran leader.
The protest organizer, the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), which said it marked the first day of a week-long campaign to bring down the government dubbed the “week of departure,” claimed that 60,000 people attended, while the police gave an estimate of 10,000.
The protest took place in a celebratory atmosphere, with demonstrators draped in the Tunisian flag singing the national anthem while opposition lawmakers addressed the crowd.
“We must bring down the government of shame ... because of which there are only political assassinations, terrorism and the harassment of political activists, the impoverishment of the people,” Mongi Rahoui said.
“Soon we will go to the Kasbah and surround it,” he added, referring to the location of the Tunisian government’s headquarters.
An evening concert was planned by artists backing calls for the dissolution of the Cabinet.
The gathering comes one month after secular Tunisian politician Mohamed Brahmi was assassinated, the second attack of its kind in six months, which plunged the coutnry into crisis.
The NSF has repeatedly insisted on the resignation of the Islamist-led government and the formation of a non-partisan administration.
The demonstration coincides with political turmoil in nearby Egypt, where the army overthrew Islamist Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi last month after millions of protesters took to the streets demanding he step down.
Tens of thousands of Tunisians have turned out for similar anti-government demonstrations twice this month.
Tunisia’s powerful UGTT trade union has been mediating between the opposition group and the Islamists to try and find a way out of the crisis. However, the talks have made little progress, with the NSF on Friday insisting that any negotiations prior to the government’s resignation were a “waste of time.”
For the first time since the start of the crisis, Ennahda on Thursday indicated that it might agree to step down, having previously rejected the opposition’s demands.
Yet the Islamists, who won the largest numbers votes in October 2011 elections, stressed that a “national dialogue” bringing together supporters and opponents of the ruling coalition needed to take place first.
“For Ennahda, a government of technocrats will destabilize the state. For the opposition, the state has been destabilized enough already,” Tunisian daily Le Temps said in an editorial on Saturday entitled: “Political stalemate, institutional deadlock.”
The UGTT has not given up hope of forging a compromise between the rival factions.
“We hope that we will find a solution responding to the interests of the nation above all, and which satisfies the different parties,” union secretary-general Hocine Abassi said after holding talks with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki.
The opposition accuses Ennahda of failing to rein in Tunisia’s hardline Salafist movement, who are blamed for murdering Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, another prominent secular politician whose assassination in February brought down the first Islamist-led coalition.