Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has rejected calls for his resignation after three days of violent protests against economic hardship left more than 300 people injured.
Jebali, the leader of the Islamist Ennahdha party, accused secular liberals and religious Salafis of harming the country’s economy and international image through their conflict with one another.
Ennahdha often presents itself as a “middle-way compromise” party, but Jebali on Thursday accused opposition parties of sowing disorder and called for the violence in the northern city of Siliana to end.
“The violence that has occurred requires us to take a stand – the unions, the parties and organisations – against, let us say, the mutual violence,” Jebali said.
But demonstrators said they were not behind the violence, as police officers were caught on camera, beating protesters among the crowd of 15,000 people.
Staff at a nearby hospital said a dozen people hit with pellets from shotguns may lose their sight.
Samir Dilou, the minister for human rights, said the government regretted injuries on both sides.
“It grieves me, [the] same as the prime minister and every Tunisian, that seeing any protester or policeman being harmed,” Dilou said.
But Nejib Sebti, leader of Tunisia’s UGTT trade union in the region, said protesters’ demands remain unchanged.
“Our demands are the same as those that have been made during the revolution,” he said.
“We want jobs, development in the region and the equitable sharing of wealth. We also demand the dismissal of the governor who has done nothing for this region, but has comprised the development here.”
Asma Ghribi, managing editor for Tunisia Live, told Al Jazeera people were angry at the slow pace of reform.
“Remember that regional development, employment and dignity were the main demands of the revolution. After two years, nothing has changed, the situation is still the same, or becoming worse,” she said.
“The government is reacting, saying that people should be realistic and that economic crisis would not be solved within a year [after the revolution].
“The response of the government was received very negatively – because the government, instead of talking to people and explaining that the challenges are very difficult, the government reacted with violence and shot at protesters with buckshot guns. Now there is a march going from Siliana to Tunis, denouncing the use of violence against protesters.”
Tension between secularists and Salafis over the direction of the North African state has hit the economy, which has yet to fully recover from instability following the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last year.
The World Bank and African Development Bank agreed this week to help out with a loan of $1bn.