Tunisians mark the anniversary of 2013 killing of a prominent activist and protest against allegations of police brutality in a rally backed by a powerful labour union.

Demonstrators attend a protest to mark the anniversary of a prominent activist's death and against allegations of police abuse, in Tunis, Tunisia February 6, 2021.
Demonstrators attend a protest to mark the anniversary of a prominent activist's death and against allegations of police abuse, in Tunis, Tunisia February 6, 2021. (Reuters)

Police have locked down a large area of central Tunis, blocking roads as thousands of protesters, backed by the country's powerful labour union, gathered in Tunisia's biggest demonstration for years.

Saturday's rally was held to mark the anniversary of the 2013 killing of a prominent activist, Chokri Belaid, and to protest against police abuses that demonstrators say have imperilled the freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that triggered the "Arab spring".

Riot police deployed cordons around the city centre, stopping both cars and many people from entering the streets around Avenue Habib Bourguiba as thousands of people gathered, a Reuters witness said.

READ MORE: Hundreds protest in Tunisia over inequality, police brutality

Focus on abuse of detainees

Unlike previous marches in the wave of street protests that have rippled across Tunisia in recent weeks, Saturday's rally is backed by the UGTT union, the country's most powerful political organisation with a million members.

Protests, which began with clashes and rioting in deprived districts last month over inequality, have increasingly focused on a large number of arrests, and reports – denied by the Interior Ministry – of abuse of detainees.

Mohammed Ammar, a member of parliament for the Attayar party, said he had phoned the prime minister to protest against the closure of central Tunis to the protest.

READ MORE: Tunisia arrests hundreds as riots continue across the country

Crisis after revolution

A decade after Tunisia's revolution, its democratic political system is in crisis, mired in endless squabbling between the president, prime minister, and parliament while the economy stagnates.

While some Tunisians, disillusioned by the fruits of their uprising, have sung nostalgia for the better living conditions they remember from the days of autocracy, others have decried a perceived erosion of the freedoms that democracy secured.

For some, the febrile climate has recalled the political polarisation after the assassination of secular activist and lawyer Belaid in February 2013.

His death triggered a wave of mass protests in Tunisia that led to a grand bargain between the main Islamist and secular political parties to stop the country from sinking into violence. 

Source: Reuters