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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tunisia police disperse fresh protest after jobless man death

Tunisian police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of job-seeking demonstrators in the impoverished town of Kasserine, in a second day of protests after the death of an unemployed man.

The demonstrators had gathered outside the local government offices demanding a solution to the region’s dire unemployment before heading towards the town centre, as small groups set up roadblocks with burning tyres.

Witnesses said police used tear gas and water cannon and fired warning shots in the air as they came under attack from stone-throwers.

Regional health authority chief Abdelghani Chaabani said eight police were injured in Kasserine as well as another 11 in nearby Thala, a day after clashes on Tuesday in which 20 protesters and three police were lightly hurt.

It comes only days after the fifth anniversary of the revolution sparked by the death of a young university graduate who set himself on fire to protest police harassment and unemployment in the nearby town of Sidi Bouzid.

Wednesday’s clashes in Kasserine took place despite a nighttime curfew imposed only the day before in the town of around 80,000 inhabitants.

Tensions have run high in Kasserine since Saturday, when an unemployed man, Ridha Yahyaoui, 28, climbed atop a power pole near the governor’s office and was electrocuted.

He was protesting after his name was removed from a list of hires for public sector jobs.

A provincial official has been sacked following Yahyaoui’s death.

Late on Wednesday, government spokesman Khaled Chouket announced a series of measures for Kasserine, including the creation of 5,000 new jobs and allocation of 135 million dinars (60 million euros) to build 1,000 social homes.

– ‘Sliding into reverse’ –

Tunisia, which has been plagued by high unemployment and poverty, has struggled to revive its economy since the 2011 revolution that toppled veteran president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

President Beji Caid Essebsi Wednesday acknowledged “the current government inherited a very difficult situation” with “700,000 unemployed and 250,000 of them young people who have degrees.” 

“But (…) we cannot deal with situations like this by statements or a helping hand. You have to give it time,” he said.

Unemployment now stands at more than 15 percent and 32 percent among holders of university degrees, and Kasserine is one of the poorest regions of the North African country.

Several rallies were held in other towns to support Kasserine and demand jobs and development.

Protestors stormed the sub-prefecture in the central town of Regueb while the facade of a customs guard post in El Hidra, Kasserine governorate, was burned and a security forces vehicle torched, interior ministry spokesman Walid Louguini told AFP.

Nearly 150 people demonstrated in Tunis and rallies were organised in Sousse and the town of El Fahs, southwest of Tunis, according to local media.

In December 2010, demonstrations broke out in Sidi Bouzid, near Kasserine in central Tunisia, after a fruit-seller set himself alight to protest harassment and unemployment.

Violent protests spread across the country, building into a massive popular movement that eventually forced Ben Ali to step down on January 14, 2011.

The revolution inspired similar uprisings in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other Arab countries but only Tunisia is considered a success story of the Arab Spring.

For many last Thursday’s anniversary raised mixed feelings, with fierce pride at the revolution tempered by concerns over continued economic problems and a rise in jihadist violence.

Beji Caid Essebsi, who won Tunisia’s first free presidential vote in 2014, announced a major cabinet reshuffle this month amid growing public frustration at the lack of progress in improving the economy.

But critics have raised concerns of a return to some of Ben Ali’s authoritarian practices, with Amnesty International saying the “human rights gains of the uprising are sliding into reverse gear”.


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