Today downtown Tunis echoed with the sound of the national anthem and cries of “Dégage!”, as well over one thousand protesters took the street in defense of the country’s largest and most powerful union.
The protest began Saturday morning at Mohamed Ali square, where the headquarters of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) are located, and was organized in response to the recent, coordinated acts of vandalism against several UGTT offices that occurred around the country. As the crowd expanded, the demonstrators emptied from the square and proceeded to marchtowards Avenue Habib Bourguiba – the capital’s main thoroughfare. While relocating, the protesters’ numbers swelled considerably, and what began as a demonstration consisting of several hundred individuals soon ballooned to a rally of approximately two or three thousand incensed demonstrators.
Participants of the protest bellowed condemnations of the interim government while expressing their fidelity to the union, waving UGTT and Tunisian flags side-by-side as they slowly made their way to their intended destination – the Ministry of the Interior, located on Avenue Bourguiba. A number of prominent figures showed their solidarity, or affiliation, with the union by joining the demonstrators. These included the current and former secretary generals of the UGTT, Hussein Abbassi and Abdessalam Jrad, and Hamma Hammami, the general secretary of the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party (POCT ).
While the culprits of the attack on the UGTT offices have yet to be identified, the union’s leadership was quick to openly direct their suspicions towards Ennahda, the Islamist party with the largest sway in the tripartite coalition government. Participants in the protest took the opportunity, not only to denounce the affront, but also to express their frustrations regarding a number of different social and political matters.
Cries of: “The people want the regime to fall!” “The Tunisian people are free! No America, no Qatar!” “Employment! Freedom! National dignity!” could be heard, among a number of other chants emanating from the increasingly eclectic group of demonstrators, pumping their fists and gesturing angrily toward the Interior Ministry.
Security forces attempted to usher the protesters away from the Ministry. After several isolated clashes occurred between police officers and the crowd, the police resolved to tear gas to disperse the gathering. Minor skirmishes between rock-throwing vestiges of the demonstration and security officials continued on for approximately 30 minutes after the avenue was cleared.