Tunisian police used tear gas and batons to disperse a crowd of hundreds of protesters in the capital, Tunis, on Friday in one of the most violent crackdowns since the start of the "Jasmine Revolution" earlier this year.
Anti-government demostrators were protesting — for the second time this week — remarks made by a former government minister in a video posted on Facebook in which he warned of a possible counter-revolution.
Tunisia’s former interim minister of interior, Farhat Rajhi, told an interviewer that forces loyal to former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali would resist any Islamist takeover in the country’s upcoming elections.
Since the ouster of Ben Ali on Jan. 14, Tunisia’s once-banned El Nahda, or renaissance, movement has been seeking an expanded political role following decades of repression.
"If Ennahda takes power, there will be a coup d'etat," said Rajhi, according to this Reuters report. "The people of the coast are not disposed to give up power and, if the elections go against them, there will be a coup d'etat."
Rajhi’s comments about the "people of the coast" — which refers to supporters of Ben Ali — spread around Tunisia’s blogosphere after the video surfaced on the social networking site Facebook earlier this week.
Tunisia's interim government expressed its "astonishment," adding that Rajhi's Facebook video was "false information that sows doubt, undermines public order and makes a plaything with the citizens' feelings."
The violent response from Tunisian police at Friday's protest is only the latest in a series of setbacks for an interim government struggling to restore stability in the runnup to the July elections for an assembly that will eventually rewrite the country's constitution.
Since Jan. 14, Tunisia's once vibrant tourist economy has been by rocked by fears of internal instability as well as the conflict in Libya.
Earlier this week, 58 inmates escaped from a prison in the seaside city of Sfax.
In separate incidents, another 800 prisonners broke out of Tunisian jails last week.