Tunisia clashes spread over tough living conditions

Tunisia clashes spread over tough living conditions
Anger grew over the death of a journalist who set himself on fire over economic conditions, prompting clashes to spread from an impoverished western city overnight.
3 min read
26 December, 2018
Police fired tear gas at youths in a second night of unrest in Kasserine [AFP]
Clashes between Tunisian protesters and security forces spread from an impoverished western city overnight, authorities said on Wednesday, as anger grew over the death of a journalist who set himself on fire over economic conditions.

Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths in a second night of unrest in the western city of Kasserine, an AFP journalist said.

Clashes also broke out in the eastern town of Jbeniana, where a policeman was injured, and in Tebourba in the north where at least five people were arrested, national security spokesman Walid Hkima said.

The unrest follows the death of 32-year-old journalist Abderrazk Zorgui on Monday after setting himself ablaze in Kasserine.

The interior ministry said one person had been arrested for alleged involvement in the desperate act of protest, which triggered an outpouring of anger in the city with protesters setting tyres on fire and blocking roads.

"For the sons of Kasserine who have no means of subsistence, today I start a revolution. I am going to set myself on fire," Zorgui said in a video published before his death.

Echoes of revolution

It was the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia in late 2010 in protest at police harassment that sparked Tunisia's revolution and the Arab Spring uprisings across the rest of the region the next year.

Kasserine was one of the first cities to rise up after the vendor's death, in protests that saw police kill demonstrators.

The unrest spread across the country and led to the overthrow of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Despite the country's democratic transition since then, authorities are still struggling to improve poor living conditions in the face of rampant inflation and persistent unemployment.

"There's a rupture between the political class and young people especially those living in insecurity in Tunisia's interior who see their future as uncertain," said the president of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Messaoud Romdhani. 

He expects the protest movement to spread to other regions because of "the lack of a real political will to address the real problems of Tunisians".

In recent months, political life in Tunisia has been paralysed by power struggles ahead of presidential elections set for 2019.

Tunisia's national union of journalists called for a general strike on January 14 to mark the eight anniversary of the revolution.

Zorgui's self-immolation "is a sign of rejection of a catastrophic situation, regional imbalances, high unemployment among young people and the misery in which our fellow citizens live in the interior regions," the Tunisian newspaper Le Quotidien said.

"No one can deny today that all the leaders of this country are responsible, responsible for the distress of our youth, their despair and their frustration," added the French-language daily.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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