Tunisia: Protests over moribund economy spread to a dozen cities

Local media report Tunisian authorities saying some 600 people arrested after two days of clashes with police.

Demonstrators blocked roads by burning tyres and threw stones and other objects at police and businesses [Fethi Belaid/AFP]

More than 600 people have been arrested after a third consecutive night of riots in several Tunisian cities and troops have been deployed in some regions, officials said.

Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni said on Sunday a total of 632 people were arrested, notably “groups of people between the ages of 15, 20 and 25 who burned tires and bins in order to block movements by the security forces”.

The defence ministry said the army had been deployed in several cities.

Protesters blocked roads by burning tyres and threw stones and other objects at police and businesses, according to the interior ministry, which said the situation was now “calm” across the country.

Most Tunisians are angry that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy and has dire public services.

Many feel disappointed that, on the 10-year anniversary of the revolution that ousted autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, there is little to show in terms of improvement.

‘Rob and entertain’

The protesters made no clear demands during the demonstrations – which authorities described as riots – around the country.

In the run-down al-Tadamen area of the capital, Tunis, protesters, most of them teenagers, blocked roads and threw stones at police. Police fired water cannon and tear gas to disperse them.

“These aren’t protests, it’s young people who are coming from nearby neighbourhoods to rob and entertain themselves,” said 26-year-old resident Oussama.

“A protest would be during the day, faces visible.”

Abdelmoneim, a waiter at a nearby cafe, said the people in the street were “bored adolescents”, but blamed the violence on the country’s post-revolution political class.

“These delinquents are the result of their failure,” the 28-year-old said.

Other cities that saw protests included Mahdia, Sousse, Bizerte, Kairouan, Kebeli, Seliana, Nabeul, Manouba Gafsa and Monastir.

Worsening economy

Tunisia had been under a night-time curfew even before the recent lockdown, a four-day measure set to expire on Sunday at midnight.

A decade on from the revolution, many Tunisians are increasingly angered by poor public services and a political class that has repeatedly proved unable to govern coherently.

GDP shrank by 9 percent last year, consumer prices have skyrocketed, and one-third of young people are unemployed.

The key tourism sector, already on its knees after a string of deadly attacks by armed groups in 2015, has been dealt a devastating blow by the pandemic.

Tunisia has registered more than 177,000 coronavirus cases, including about 5,600 deaths from the disease.

The health crisis and ensuing economic misery have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to leave the country.

In el-Tadamen on Sunday evening, waiter Abdelmoneim nervously dragged on a cigarette as youths fought police nearby.

“I don’t see any future here,” he said.

He said he was determined to take a boat across the Mediterranean to Europe “as soon as possible, and never come back to this miserable place”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies