Tunis - Tens of thousands of Tunisians marched in support of their embattled government on Saturday 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 and AFP reporters on the scene estimated the number at tens of thousands.
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 organised 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.
One demonstrator, Mohamed Hamrouni, a 25-year-old student, said: "The opposition has to stop calling the government into question, because it is the only way to complete our democratic transition."
Meanwhile, several thousand opposition demonstrators also staged what has become a nightly rally, witnesses told AFP.
The rallies passed off peacefully.