The Tunis police blocked the town middle in opposition to a deliberate protest

From Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) – Police on Saturday cordoned off a large area in central Tunis and blocked roads to prevent a major protest from the country’s powerful trade union, which sparked angry criticism from MPs.

Large numbers were expected to gather to mark the 2013 murder of a prominent activist and to protest police abuse which they say jeopardized the freedoms won in the 2011 revolution, which triggered the “Arab Spring”.

Riot police put barriers in the city center, preventing both cars and many people from entering the streets around Habib Bourguiba Avenue as hundreds of people gathered, a Reuters witness said.

Unlike previous demonstrations in the wave of street protests that have taken place in Tunisia in recent weeks, the rally on Saturday is supported by the UGTT union, the country’s most powerful political organization with one million members.

Protests, which began last month with clashes and riots in deprived areas over inequality, increasingly focused on the large number of arrests and reports – rejected by the Home Office – of abuse of prisoners.

Mohammed Ammar, an MP for the Attayar party, said he called the prime minister to protest the closure of central Tunis.

A decade after the revolution in Tunisia, the democratic political system is in crisis, with endless arguments between the president, prime minister and parliament, while the economy stagnates.

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

The feverish climate has reminded some of the political polarization after a die-hard Islamist murdered secular activist and lawyer Chokri Belaid in February 2013.

His death sparked a wave of mass protests in Tunisia that resulted in a major agreement between the main Islamist and secular political parties to prevent the country from sinking into violence.

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