Tunisia is known as the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the country where a distraught fruit seller who set himself on fire launched a wave of uprisings that is reshaping the Middle East.
Now, new protests are sweeping the North African nation along with renewed complaints of repression, another sign of the unrest that still grips the region.
Late last month Tunisian authorities barred all protests from a central avenue in Tunis after weeks of demonstrations for and against Islamic law. After the fall of longtime leader Zine el Abidine ben Ali and his secular regime, Tunisia is now led by moderate Islamists.
Protesters have repeatedly defied the ban, marching onto the avenue and being pushed back with tear gas and batons. The latest group of protesters, which included many secular critics of the new government, was marking a holiday commemorating those killed under French colonialism.
Many protesters argue that the new ruling party has failed to improve on the previous rulers. “It was us who defended them when they were repressed under Ben Ali and today, now that they are in power, they repress us with the same practices of the old regime,” Moufda Belghith of the Tunisian Assn. of Democratic Women complained to the Associated Press.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki later said the violence was excessive and unacceptable, laying blame on both police and the protesters, Agence France-Presse reported.
The human rights group Amnesty International says that while Tunisia has ousted Ben Ali, it has yet to dismantle his laws, which violate the right to peaceful protest.
"It is beyond belief to see the new Tunisian government not only relying on such draconian laws, but also banning protests on the very same street that became a symbol of the uprising," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the organization's deputy director of Middle East and North Africa programs.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Video: Police crack down on banned protests in Tunis on Monday. Credit: Tunisia Talks