World Bulletin / News Desk
Pro- and anti-government demonstrators clashed in two Tunisian cities on Monday, witnesses said, as tensions rose over opposition efforts to oust the government.
Angry opposition protesters tried to storm municipal offices in Sidi Bouzid and stop employees there from working, residents said, sparking clashes between them and supporters of the Ennahda party, which leads the transitional government.
The army intervened to protect the offices and police fired tear gas, but residents said thousands of demonstrators were still gathering in the southern city, the cradle of the revolt that overthrew PresidentZine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
"Now many of the protesters are coming in carrying batons and it looks like the situation is going to escalate because both sides are standing firm," one resident, Mahdi al-Hurshani, told Reuters by telephone.
Tunisians fear they may be plunging into one of the worst crises in their political transition since Ben Ali was forced to flee by an uprising that inspired unrest across the Arab world.
Opposition leaders say they might set up a rival "salvation government", an idea they will discuss later on Monday.
The secular opposition, angered by the second assassination in its ranks in six months and emboldened by the Egyptian army's ousting of an Islamist president this month, is now rejecting all concessions and reconciliation efforts by the government.
The unrest has erupted just weeks before the transitional Constituent Assembly was set to complete a draft of a new constitution. The opposition now demands that the 217-member body be dissolved. Seventy lawmakers have left it and set up a sit-in outside the Assembly offices in Tunis's Bardo square.
Cabinet ministers will meet on Monday to discuss the growing political crisis, a government official said, and a message from the prime minister to the nation is expected soon.
In Bardo square, rival protesters threw rocks at each other and police intervened to disperse them. Opposition sources said security forces beat one of the 70 lawmakers who had quit the Constituent Assembly. He was taken to hospital.
"The prime minister will be held accountable for any drop of blood spilled in the Bardo sit-in," opposition figure Manji Rahawi said.
Tunisia's powerful labour unions were also set to meet on Monday to discuss more strike action. On Friday, the unions shut down much of the country for a strike to mourn leftist politician Mohamed Brahmiwho was assassinated last week.
The government says Brahmi's assailants used the same weapon that killed another secular leader,Chokri Belaid, on Feb. 6.Güncelleme Tarihi: 29 Temmuz 2013, 13:39