Tunis - Tunisia's Islamist-led government gathered in
emergency meeting Monday as protesters demanding its ouster dug in outside
parliament after another night of protests.
Tensions have spiralled in Tunisia since the murder on
Thursday of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi, the second anti-Islamist figure
gunned down in six months.
Many Tunisians blame the government for the two killings,
particularly for failing to rein in radical Islamists accused of a wave of
attacks since strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in a popular
uprising in 2011.
The government led by Ennahda Islamist party was due to
begin crucial talks at 0800 GMT.
In the afternoon, the powerful General Union of Tunisian
Labour (UGTT) was to convene "to decide the fate" of the country, its
secretary general Sami Tahri said.
Early on Monday, a group of 30 demonstrators protested
outside the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) for a fourth day running, after
night demonstrations by supporters and opponents of Ennahda.
Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters, an AFP
Overnight around 10 000 people demonstrated for and against
the government on Bardo Square outside the parliament building.
Police vans and metal barricades separated the two camps as
numbers swelled after the iftar meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast observed
by the faithful during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Opposition MPs and secular politicians joined protesters
calling for the dissolution of the NCA and the resignation of the government,
chanting: "The people want the fall of the assassins."
On the other side, government supporters chanted back:
"The people are Muslim and will not capitulate".
"Those who boycott the ANC betray Tunisia,"
Ennahda MP Fathi Ayadi told AFP. "We will resist until the objectives of
(2011) are achieved and there won't be a coup in this country."
He was alluding to the 3 July coup in Egypt which deposed
elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Since then the Arab world's most
populous nation has been rocked by deadly violence.
Tunisia's rival protesters have called for more
demonstrations outside the parliament building.
But NCA speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar has called for
"restraint" and urged deputies to return and resume work on a
much-delayed constitution, one of the thorniest issues in post-revolution
Brahmi's murder has fuelled anger across Tunisia and dozens
of MPs are boycotting parliament in protest at what many say is the
government's failure to track down his killers.
On Monday, politician Hedi Ben Abbes, a member of the
centre-left Congress for the Republic, one of Ennahda's coalition partners in
the government, said he was quitting the party.
Authorities have blamed radical Salafists close to the al-Qaeda-linked
group Ansar al-Sharia of gunning down Brahmi, whose body was riddled with 14
bullets outside his home.
They say the same gun used to assassinate opposition
politician Chokri Belaid in February killed Brahmi.
But Ansar al-Sharia denied any responsibility, calling
Brahmi's murder "a political assassination" which "only profits
remnants of the former regime and lackeys of the Zionists and Crusaders".
Hundreds of thousands of mourners thronged the streets of
Tunis on Saturday for an emotionally charged funeral procession to El-Jellaz
cemetery, where Brahmi was buried next to Belaid.
Slogans vowing to "avenge" Brahmi and Belaid rose
from the sea of mourners.
Anti-government protesters then assembled outside the NCA
and clashed with police who fired tear gas to disperse them and an opposition
MP was injured by a blow to the head, AFP correspondents reported.
The demonstrators have kept up the momentum since then and
have squared off with government supporters outside parliament.
Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou on Sunday pledged to
guarantee the safety of anti-government demonstrators, leftist MP Samir Taieb
said after meeting the minister.
Taieb, who has been calling on the government to step down
and hand over to an administration of national unity, said nearly a third of
the 217 members of the assembly were boycotting its sessions.