Tunisian police fired teargas in a southern city to disperse hundreds of youths who burned tyres and blocked streets to demonstrate against an official from the old guard who declared he had won Sunday’s presidential vote, residents said.
Yesterday’s protests in Hamma erupted after veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi declared victory in Sunday’s run-off, seen as the last step in Tunisia’s shift to full democracy four years after an uprising ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
Critics of Essebsi, an 88-year-old former parliamentary speaker under Ben Ali, see his return as a setback for the 2011 uprising that ousted the veteran ruler and put the North African country on the road to full democracy, with a new constitution and free parliamentary and presidential elections.
His rival, the incumbent president, Moncef Marzouki, has refused to concede defeat, saying he would wait for the electoral authorities to make their results public.
“Hundreds of angry youths upset over Essebsi’s victory declaration set fire to tyres in the streets of the city while police fired teargas and arrested several youths,” Ammar Giloufi, a resident, said.
“All shops are closed. They are chanting ‘No to the old regime’.”
Another resident told Reuters protesters had tried to storm a police station, but had been driven back by teargas. Local police officials could not immediately be contacted.
As frontrunner, Essebsi dismissed critics who said victory for him would mark a return of the old guard. He argued that he was the technocrat Tunisia needed following three messy years of an Islamist-led coalition government.
Marzouki, who had sought refuge in France during the Ben Ali era, painted a potential Essebsi presidency as a reverse for the “Jasmine Revolution” that forced the former autocrat to flee into exile.
Victory for Essebsi would enable him to consolidate power, with his new secular party, Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia) already controlling parliament after defeating the main Islamist party in legislative elections in October.
With a new progressive constitution and a string of votes successfully completed, Tunisia is hailed as an example of democratic change in a region that is struggling to cope with the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.
“I dedicate my victory to the martyrs of Tunisia. I thank Marzouki, and now we should work together without excluding anyone,” Essebsi told local television.
“Tunisia has won today, democracy has won, we need to stay united. Despite the claims of our adversary, all indications are positive for us, we look ahead,” he told cheering supporters from the balcony of his Tunis campaign headquarters.
Tensions have in the past flared between Islamists and secularists after the 2011 rebellion in one of the Arab world’s most secular nations.
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