Tunisia forces fire in air to disperse rally

It was the second straight day of mass protests in the North African country’s capital despite a government ban on rallies after a popular uprising last month forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee.

Following weeks of relative calm, as many as 30,000 marchers gathered in front of the prime minister’s building shouting slogans such as “Leave!” and “We don’t want the friends of Ben Ali!”. Security forces fired into the air.

More than a month after Ben Ali’s departure, some Tunisians have complained the caretaker government charged with setting elections to replace him has failed to provide security amid a surge in crime and worries over political violence.

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry on Saturday said mass demonstrations were forbidden under state of emergency laws and that protesters could be arrested. More than 15,000 protesters had clogged downtown Tunis on Saturday, most of them chanting anti-Islamist slogans after the murder of a priest the government blamed on “a group of terrorist fascists with extremist tendencies”, and a series of Islamist protests against brothels.

The two days of protests end a stretch of relative calm in the capital since early February. Ben Ali, who ruled the country since 1987, had outlawed Islamism and was seen as repressive and corrupt by many Tunisians. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he is now in ill health. Elections to replace him are expected in July or August.

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