Tunisian journalists walked out of the country's Constituent Assembly Thursday as Interior Minister Ali Larayedh defended a police crackdown, widely branded as brutal, on a banned rally.
Larayedh denounced "parts of the media" for having "added fuel to the flames" of a demonstration Monday on Tunis' central Bourguiba avenue which was off limits for protesters since March 28.
Journalists have been boycotting the minister's public appearances since Monday after several media people were harassed or hurt in the protest. Media watchdog Reporters without Borders counted 16 such incidents.
Defending the police intervention Larayedh showed assembly members photos of wounded riot police officers and demonstrators lobbing stones on the day known as Martyrs' Day, which commemorates the bloody crackdown by French colonial troops on a protest in Tunis on April 9, 1938.
"The media exaggerated what happened and spoke of this demonstration as if it was war, but there is no war," he said.
Outside the assembly several hundred people voiced support for Larayedh, the Islamist-led government and the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.
"These demonstrations, this chaos must stop, we must back this government which was legitimized by the people," housewife Faouzia told AFP.
"Opposition parties do not respect the election outcome or the people's will," said another demonstrator.
Ennahda has accused "Stalinist anarchists" of creating chaos.
At least 15 civilians and eight policemen were hurt as a result of Monday's clashes that went on for several hours, the worst outbreak of violence in months in Tunis, according to hospital sources and the interior ministry.
The government on Wednesday said an independent panel would investigate the incidents, and also announced that the ban on Bourguiba avenue rallies, imposed two weeks earlier, had been lifted.
Tunisia's communist party meanwhile asked the government to find out what militias were active in Monday's protests.
"We want a serious investigation into the presence and identity of civilian groups that helped the police in the brutal dispersion of the April 9 demonstration in Tunis," Communist and Workers Party leader Hamma Hammami said.
"Civilians armed with bludgeons and grenade launchers were seen on the ground alongside the police and must be identified," he added.
The Ennahda party has threatened to sue Hammami over what it called "unsubstantiated accusations".
Ennahda "has no links whatsoever" with such irregular militias, said party leader Rached Ghannouchi.
Source: AFP Global Edition