Police in Tunisia’s southern city of Tataouine has fired tear gas to disperse protesters hurling stones at them and blocking roads, as demonstrations over high unemployment and the release of an activist escalated.
Demonstrators have been calling on the government to implement a 2017 deal to create jobs in oil companies and infrastructure projects to reduce unemployment now running at 30 percent in the region, one of the highest rates in Tunisia.
Ten years after a popular revolution ended Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s rule, the country is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to unemployed youth in deprived regions like Tataouine.
On Monday, clashes erupted in the city for a second straight day.
“The situation is dangerous in our area. From the window of my home I see police forces randomly launching [tear] gas and chasing young men,” Ismail Smida, a resident, told Reuters News Agency.
Another witness said police skirmished with hundreds of demonstrators throwing stones, blocking roads and chanting: “We will not give up, we want our right to development and jobs.”
In 2017, protests over a lack of jobs in Tataouine and Kebili provinces hit oil and natural gas production in a region where French firm Perenco and Austria’s OMV operate led to a deal promising jobs in oil and development projects.
But protesters said after three years the agreement has not been implemented.
Tunisia was the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled those in power in countries across North Africa and the Middle East, but it was the only one to achieve a transition to full democracy.
Since then, however, Tunisia’s economy has been in crisis and no government has managed to resolve chronic problems including high inflation, unemployment and corruption.
Protesters have also called for of the release of activist Tarek Haddad, a key figure in the protest movement who was arrested over the weekend.
The governor of Tataouine, Adel Werghi, was quoted as saying by AFP news agency that Haddad was “wanted” by the authorities, without providing further details.
For its part, the interior ministry said 10 people were arrested on Sunday after a group of protesters tried to attack police stations with Molotov cocktails.
Denouncing an “excessive and unjustified” use of force against protesters, the powerful Tunisian trade union confederation UGTT had called for a general strike in Tataouine.
Shops were open on Monday but public services and state institutions remained closed in adherence to the strike.
The protests come as Tunisia, until now largely spared the worst of the novel coronavirus, faces tensions within its coalition government and the effect of restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the virus that have deepened inequalities.