Protests continue in Tunisia

Clashes erupt between security forces and residents in Sidi Bouzid amid wave of social unrest.

Around 300 lawyers were also reported to have rallied in a the street close to the government''s palace in the Tunisian capital of Tunis.
Al Jazeera’s Renee Odeh reports how unemployment protests have spread to the Tunisian capital

Tunisian trade-union sources say more confrontations have occurred between Tunisian security forces and residents in Sidi Bouzid governorate.

The clashes took place on Saturday night in the towns of al-Ragab and Maknasi in central Tunisia, the sources told Al Jazeera.

The skirmishes broke out when security forces staged overnight crackdown campaigns, after social protests against unemployment spread to Tunis, the Tunisian capital.

Hundreds of protesters had rallied in front of the Tunisian labour union headquarters. The demonstrators called on the authorities to provide jobs for those with university degrees.

They were also out in a show of solidarity with Sidi Bouzid residents who kept protesting for the ninth day, leaving one man dead and others injured.

Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger and university assistant, told Al Jazeera that people are discontented.

“We are unhappy with the policies in Tunisia, we are unhappy with everything – it is not just unemployment.”

One dead

Mohamed Ammari, a teenager, was killed on Friday when police in Bouziane, 240km south of Tunis, opened fire on protesters.

An interior ministry spokesperson said police had been forced to “shoot in self-defence” after shots into the air failed to disperse scores of protesters who were setting police cars and buildings ablaze.

Protesters in Tunis take to the streets in a show of solidarity with Sidi Bouzid residents [Lina Ben Mhenni]

The cause of the latest violence was not immediately clear but similar clashes broke out on December 17 in the town of Sidi Bouzid after a man committed suicide in a protest over unemployment.

“A young man set fire to his body and people are reacting – people are organising protests everywhere and it is spreading across the country,” Lina Ben Mhenni said.

“Last night there were clashes in an area called Souk Jedid. Today there are marches and protests in Gassa, in the south, and in Sfax, the capital of the south,” she said.

“I just heard about another protest in Ben Guerdane, also in the South.”

The incident prompted violent demonstrations in which protesters burned tyres and chanted slogans demanding jobs.

Mohamed Al Nouri Al Juwayni, the development and international co-operation minister, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the Tunisian government is conceding the legality of the protesters’ employment demands.

The government was seeking to address the issue, but only via dialogue, Al Juwayni added.

“The issue of unemployment is of concern to all parties in Tunisia. But what is not unacceptable is for those parties to resort to violence, which is not in anyone’s interest.” 

Political opposition

Tensions heightened on December 22 when another young man climbed up an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed.

Said Ferjani, a member of the outlawed opposition Nahda movement, told Al Jazeera that unemployment was a country-wide issue.

“We have a problem in the management of the country and it is not only in Sidi Bouzid, it is across the country,” Ferjani said from London.

“These disturbances have never been violent – it is the government that incites violence. They are highly corrupted and there is a denial from them about how they treat people.”

He said that joblessness was not a new problem and it was also not related to the financial crisis.

Government promises

Al Juwayni, the Tunisian development minister, travelled to Sidi Bouzid on Thursday to announce a new $10m employment programme.

But Ben Mhenni said that this was too late: “They [the government] are trying to solve the problem by making promises. They did the same thing in 2008, but these are not real solutions.”

The Tunisian government, which tolerates little dissent, has accused its opponents of manipulating the clashes between police and young people in Sidi Bouzid to discredit the authorities.

Ben Mhenni said that she was harassed by police after speaking to Al Jazeera in the past: “They followed me for two days but I am not afraid.”

“I am fed up with what is happening in Tunisia, I don’t care – they can do whatever they want. Everyone is fed up now.”

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which does not have a seat in parliament, called on the government to stop arresting young people and instead focus on dialogue and job creation.

Riots are rare in Tunisia, which has been run for 23 years by Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and works closely with Western governments to combat al-Qaeda operatives.

The North African country has become a regional focus for international financial institutions since announcing a plan to complete current-account convertibility of its dinar currency over the 2010-2012 period.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies