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Tunisia police crack down on anti-Saied protest

Tunisian policemen arrest a protester during a demonstration during a protest days before  President Kais Saied holds a referendum on a controversial constitution
— Tunis (AFP)

Tunisian police used pepper spray to disperse protesters and arrested several demonstrators Friday, as hundreds rallied against President Kais Saied three days before a controversial vote on a new constitution.

More than 300 people had gathered on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis, surrounded by a heavy police presence with water cannons and riot gear, AFP reporters said.

Some protesters moved towards a police barrier near the imposing interior ministry building, where police roughly blocked their passage.

At least 10 demonstrators were arrested, according to two police sources.

The protest came as Tunisians prepare to vote Monday on a draft constitution that would enshrine the vast powers that Saied has exercised since he sacked the government and suspended parliament on July 25 last year.

His move was a decisive blow against the crisis-ridden political system in Tunisia, the only democracy to have emerged from the 2011 Arab uprisings, and his rivals say his constitution aims to restore an autocracy.

Some demonstrators carried placards reading slogans such as "the constitution will not pass" and "Saied the dictator".

"We (Tunisian people) didn't write anything!" read one, a reference to Saied's draft charter.

The head of the SNJT journalists' union, Mehdi Jelassi, was treated on the spot after being sprayed in the face with tear gas, he told AFP.

A police officer blamed the demonstrators for the unrest, saying they had been authorised to hold a protest on one part of the city centre boulevard but had "purposely moved towards the ministry because they sought provocation".

Hamma Hammami, head of the far-left Workers' Party, vowed that Saied's opponents would not give up.

"Whether the constitution passes or not, our struggle will continue until the fall of this new tyrant," he told reporters.

"We are not afraid of prison, torture or death."