TUNIS, (AFP) – Hundreds of Tunisians, most of them Islamists, rallied on Saturday in the capital to demand that cronies of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali be put in the dock on corruption charges.
“The people want to clean up the country,” demonstrators chanted in central Tunis, with some holding Salafist flags. “People, rise up against the cronies of the dictator,” they said amid a heavy police presence.
The rally was organised by the League for the Protection of the Revolution, a group close to the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, which claims its mission is to protect the goals of the 2011 revolution that toppled Ben Ali.
The protesters’ rage focused on businessman and influential politician Kamel Eltaief who has been banned from travelling since November and who is being investigated for “conspiracy against state security.”
“Eltaief, your hour has come,” they chanted. “No more corruption after the revolution.”
Lawyer Mohamed Cherif Jebali, who lodged a complaint against Eltaief prompting the launch of the probe against the businessman, said the word on the street is: “Kamel Eltaief must be judged.”
“This man spearheads the counter-revolution, and the judiciary are dragging their feet in his case,” said Jebali, who said he was taking part in the rally like other activists over concerns that the uprising was being hijacked.
Eltaief, once considered Ben Ali’s eminence grise and who helped him in decision-making, told AFP in an interview that he was in the crosshairs of the Islamists because of his current links to the opposition.
“Officials of the Islamist party Ennahda and their leftist allies want me in jail for political reasons,” said Eltaief, an influential figure in Tunisian politics both before and after the revolution.
Demonstrators also called for the “purification” of the main labour union UGTT, saying that the General Union of Tunisian Workers was rife with “symbols of corruption” and diehard former regime figures.
“The UGTT has become the hostage of the left,” said Hedi Belaid, a former leader of the union of aeronautical technicians. “It must stop delving into politics and continue its task of protecting the rights of all workers.”
Tensions have escalated in Tunisia between the powerful union and the ruling Islamists, with the UGTT calling for a rare nationwide general strike for December 13.
It called the strike to denounce an attack on its headquarters this week that it says was carried out by the pro-Ennahda League for the Protection of the Revolution. The Islamists say the UGTT itself orchestrated the confrontation.