Tunisia’s once-feared police staged a rally of their own, demanding better salaries and insisting they were not to blame for deaths among protesters who forced the North African country’s autocratic leader to flee.
At least 2,000 police rallied in central Tunis, an epicentre of protest and clashes between youths and police that forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to quit the country he ruled with an iron fist for 23 years.
It was a significant development for Tunisia, where police under Ben Ali were widely feared. The rally took place near the hulking Interior Ministry, a symbol of the dread that his regime inspired for many Tunisians.
The crowd in Avenue Bourguiba, where daily protests have been held, drew many plain-clothed and uniformed police with red armbands. They were pressing demands including the creation of a union, better pay and – like other protests in recent days – the ousting of any members of Ben Ali’s party from the government.
Officers climbed on to their official cars, blew their whistles and waved flags and signs. Some exchanged hugs to congratulate each other about their chance to protest. Many were joined by their families.
“I am not afraid to come down to the street,” said Rida Barreh, 30, who has been an internal security officer for five years.
“I work 12 hours a day and yet only get paid 500 dinars (£218) a month.”
He said he wanted a union to help defend police officers’ interests and wanted to convince Tunisians in general that “we are here for the people and we want to serve the people”.
“The government always made sure the people were scared of us but this must end,” he said. “Also I don’t want the blood of our martyrs on my hands.”
Another officer, Nabil Jazeeri, said: “We need to forget the past and realise there is no home in Tunis that doesn’t have a police officer or a man serving in the army.”