Witnesses say protesters stormed or tried to storm Ennahda offices in Monastir, Sfax, El Kef and Sousse, while in Touzeur they set fire to the party's local headquarters.

People react in the street after Tunisia's president dismissed the government and froze parliament, in La Marsa, Tunisia, July 26, 2021
People react in the street after Tunisia's president dismissed the government and froze parliament, in La Marsa, Tunisia, July 26, 2021 (Reuters)

Police and protesters have clashed in several Tunisian cities as demonstrators demanding the government step down attacked offices of Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament that calls themselves "Muslim Democrat".

Witnesses said protesters stormed or tried to storm Ennahda offices in Monastir, Sfax, El Kef and Sousse, while in Touzeur they set fire to the party's local headquarters on Sunday night.

"The people want the dissolution of parliament," the crowd chanted.

Several protesters were arrested and a journalist was injured when the crowd hurled stones and police fired tear gas canisters.

The protests, the biggest in Tunisia for months and the biggest to target Ennahda for years, were called by social media activists. No political parties publicly backed the rallies.

In Tunis, police used pepper spray against protesters who threw stones and shouted slogans demanding that Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi quit and parliament be dissolved. There were other big protests in Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid and Nabeul.

The violence came as hundreds of protesters rallied in each of the main cities after a spike in Covid-19 cases that has aggravated economic troubles and exposed the failings of a squabbling political class.

READ MORE: Tunisian president suspends parliament, dismisses government

Coronavirus pandemic 

The protests raised pressure on a fragile government that is enmeshed in a political struggle with President Kais Saied, as the government tries to avert a looming fiscal crisis amid a weeks-long spike in Covid-19 cases and increased death rates.

The pandemic has hammered the economy, which was already struggling in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime authoritarian leader Zine al Abidine Ben Ali.

Public support for democracy has waned amid surging unemployment and crumbling state services.

"Our patience has run out... there are no solutions for the unemployed," said Nourredine Selmi, 28, a jobless protester. "They cannot control the epidemic ... They can't give us vaccines."

Last week, Mechichi sacked the health minister after chaotic scenes at walk-in vaccination centres during the Muslim Eid al Adha holiday, where large crowds queued for inadequate supplies of vaccine.

Critics say president attempting to expand powers 

After a year of wrangling with Mechichi and the leader of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, Saied declared the army would take over the pandemic response.

Some analysts saw the move as an attempt to expand his powers beyond the foreign and military role assigned to the president in the 2014 constitution.

Ennahda, banned before the revolution, has been the most consistently successful political party since then and a member of successive government coalitions. It has backed Mechichi, a political independent, in his disputes with the president.

"The message of anger was well received... but violence and burning are unacceptable," said party official Maher Mahioub.

Government paralysis could derail efforts to negotiate an International Monetary Fund loan seen as crucial to stabilising state finances but which could also involve spending cuts that would aggravate economic pain for the people.

READ MORE: Tunisia's Ennahda holds street protest as political tensions stay high

Source: TRTWorld and agencies