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updated: 8/24/2013 5:05 PM

Thousands of Tunisians protest government

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Associated Press

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated Saturday night in front of their national assembly kicking off a week of planned protests to call for the resignation of the Islamist-led government.

The assassination of a left-wing politician in July - the second such killing in five months - has plunged the country into a political crisis with the opposition accusing the government of failing to maintain security or restart the economy.

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A coalition of opposition parties, known as the National Salvation Front, is calling for a new government of technocrats to run the country and organize new elections.

"We tried you, you failed, now leave," chanted protesters in the first demonstration of what is being called the "week of departure" for the government.

The protest began with a rendition of the national anthem led by the dozens of opposition members of the assembly that have frozen their participation in the elected body in protest of the government. Many were surrounded by bodyguards in response to death threats.

Police monitoring the demonstration checked people's bags, but there were none of the clashes or tear gas that have marred past protests.

Tunisia's main labor union has been mediating between the Islamists and the opposition. Ennahda said Thursday it accepted in principle a proposal to form a technocratic government, but only after further negotiations.

The opposition has condemned the Islamists' move as just a stalling tactic and maintained that dissolving the government was a prerequisite for further talks.

"The opposition is determined to say no to any negotiations before the current government is dissolved," said Karima Souid, a member of the left-of-center Al-Massar party. "We call for a government of public salvation to manage the country's affairs and carry out free and fair elections, without fear."

Tunisia was the birthplace for the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings when it overthrew long-ruling President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. Its subsequent rocky transition to democracy, which has included political assassinations, terrorist attacks and social unrest over a faltering economy, has been closely watched internationally.

With its educated and largely middle class population of 10 million, Tunisia is seen as having the best chance of becoming a functioning democracy - especially following the recent coup in Egypt.

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