Thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Tunis to call for the replacement of the interim government, marking the second day of protests in the North African country despite a ban on rallies.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since a popular uprising last month forced President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali to flee.

Marchers shouted slogans such as ‘Leave!’ and ‘We don't want the friends of Ben Ali!’ as security forces carrying automatic rifles watched, but did not intervene.

More than a month after Ben Ali's departure, some Tunisians have complained the caretaker government charged with setting elections to replace him has failed to provide security amid a surge in crime and worries over political violence.

Tunisia's Interior Ministry on Saturday said mass demonstrations were forbidden under state of emergency laws and that protesters could be arrested.

More than 15,000 protesters clogged downtown Tunis yesterday, most of them chanting anti-Islamist slogans after the murder of a priest the government blamed on ‘a group of terrorist fascists with extremist tendencies’, and a series of Islamist protests against brothels.

The two days of protests end a stretch of relative calm in the capital since early February.

Ben Ali, who ruled the country since 1987, had outlawed Islamism and was seen as repressive and corrupt by many Tunisians. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he is now in ill health, according to sources.

Elections to replace him are expected in July or August.