First Published: 2018-01-12

Sporadic unrest continues in Tunisia
Presidency says main political parties, unions, business organisations will meet on Saturday to discuss situation.
Middle East Online

Tunisians have expressed frustration since the start of the year over austerity measures

TUNIS - Sporadic unrest continued to shake parts of Tunisia Thursday, as authorities said more than 600 people had been arrested in a week of protest as anger at austerity measures boils over on the streets.

Tunisia, whose 2011 revolt sparked the Arab Spring, has been convulsed with sometimes violent demonstrations since late Monday that have seen protesters clash with security forces and left dozens injured.

The North African country is seen as a rare success story of the uprisings seven years ago that toppled autocrats across the region, but its failure to tackle poverty and unemployment have stirred economic resentment.

In the latest violence young people in the northern town of Siliana hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces, who responded with tear gas, an AFP correspondent said.

Police detained 328 people on Wednesday for theft, looting, arson and blocking roads, the interior ministry said Thursday, after arresting more than 280 people over the previous two days.

Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said the violence was less intense than in previous days.

Twenty-one members of the security forces were injured, according to Chibani, who said no civilians were hurt.

AFP correspondents said most areas were calm late Thursday, and the presidency said the main political parties, unions and business organisations will meet on Saturday to discuss the situation.

Tunisia is often seen as having had a relatively smooth transition since the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

But Tunisians have expressed frustration since the start of the year over austerity measures expected to further increase prices in a struggling economy.

The country has introduced hikes in value-added tax and social contributions as part of a tough new budget.

Activists campaigning against the austerity measures have called for a huge protest on Friday.

Political scientist Olfa Lamloum called the measures "the straw that breaks the camel's back".

"Young people are disappointed with the revolution, especially because of the high cost of living," she said.

- 'Nostalgia spreading' -

Lamloum pointed to "deepening social inequalities" highlighted by official figures showing rising poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, particularly among young people.

In Tebourba, where a man died during the first unrest overnight Monday to Tuesday, the mood was grim.

"The political class is responsible for all this," said teacher Fatma Ben Rezayel in Tebourba on Thursday. "The region is totally marginalised."

She deplored that "unemployed young people fed up with their poor lives" were being branded criminals by the authorities.

The unrest started with peaceful protests last week, but escalated into clashes with police overnight Monday to Tuesday.

Unrest hit several areas including the central city of Kasserine, and Siliana, Tebourba and Thala in the north.

Scuffles also broke out in some Tunis neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, several dozen unemployed people protested in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 uprisings.

In Kasserine, youths tried to block roads with burning tyres and hurled stones at police, another AFP correspondent said.

The main police station in the northern town of Thala was also torched, Chibani said.

In Tebourba police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters, a resident said.

One protester recalled what had happened to him.

"I wanted to express my anger about being poor, and they responded with tear gas at my head," said Mohamed Rahmani, 21, his head in bandages because of 10 stitches.

- Protest calls -

Rail services were cancelled in some areas after a train was attacked in southern Tunis on Wednesday, local media reported.

The opposition Popular Front party, accused by the authorities of supporting the rioters, urged the government to "find solutions for young Tunisians".

"Peaceful demonstrations are part of the democratic equation, but damaging public property and harming citizens is illegal," said Hamma Hammami, spokesman for the leftist party.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015 following a series of deadly jihadist attacks.

Conflict analysts International Crisis Group (ICG) warned the country's political class Thursday against succumbing to "authoritarian temptation".

While politicians had so far resisted the urge to backtrack on reforms, the ICG said "in the context of an economic slump, the nostalgia for a strong state, like the one that the former regime claimed to defend, is spreading".

Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

The uprising began in December 2010 after street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and later died in a protest over unemployment and police harassment.

At a cafe in Tebourba on Thursday, 41-year-old Sami shared coffee and a cigarette with a friend.

"There's no work and no future here," he said. "I don't have a dinar on me."

 

UN Security Council lenient to Turkey’s Syria offensive

Washington probes Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’

Tillerson to present US strategy on Syria to European, Arab allies

Russia pension funds may invest in Aramco IPO

Iranian woman skydiver looks to break down stereotypes

Turkish army clashes with Kurdish militia amid US alarm

Turkey arrests dozens accused of ‘terror propaganda’

Three French female jihadists face possible death penalty in Iraq

Women journalists protest separation during Pence visit to Jerusalem

Egypt military accuses presidential hopeful of committing crimes

Israeli minister calls to ban author praising Palestinian teen

Qatar supports Turkey’s offensive against Kurds

World powers meet on Syria chemical attacks

Morocco's king appoints five new ministers

Pence pledges US embassy move by end of 2019 on Jerusalem trip

Russia calls for diplomatic solution to Yemen conflict

Russia invites Kurds to join Syria peace process

Turkey shells Kurdish targets in northern Syria

Closer look at pro-Ankara rebels amassing around Afrin

Pence set for Palestinian snub

Abbas to ask EU to recognise Palestinian state

Saudi-led coalition to give $1.5 bln in Yemen aid

Mattis: Turkey gave US advance warning on Syria operation

Yemen releases budget for first time in three years

Saudi calls for cooperation between OPEC, non-OPEC countries

France presses Turkey to end offensive against Kurds

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria

Kurdish militia fire rockets at Turkish town

Moroccans wary depreciation of dirham could raise cost of living, despite benefits

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs

US to overtake Saudi as world’s second crude oil producer