Tunisian protests reach the capital

Tunisian protests reach the capital
The Tunisian government is worried about terrorists taking advantage of the chaos in the country amid fresh demonstrations in several parts of Tunisia over unemployment and poverty.
3 min read
22 January, 2016
Protesters setup roadblocks with burning tyres [Anadolu]

Demonstrators in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia and in other parts of the country took to the streets in fresh protests over unemployment and poverty, as the government warned from "infiltrators".

Several young people burnt a security checkpoint on Thursday evening and setup roadblocks with burning tyres on the main road in Hay al-Tadamon (al-Tadamon neighbourhood) in the capital.

Hay al-Tadamon is one of the largest neighbourhoods in the city with a high rate of unemployed youths and has seen so much activity during the Tunisian revolution.

People from the neighbourhood told The New Arab that the smell of tear gas had flooded their homes.

A local labourer called Kamal said: "The protests started near the municipality and then swept through the centre of Hay al-Tadamon," pointing out that the security forces fired tear gas before pulling out after protesters threw stones at them.

The Tunisian government warned in a statement that "terrorist groups" could exploit the state of chaos to infiltrate the protesters and carry out attacks.

Ministry of Defence spokesman Belhasan al-Waslati told The New Arab the Tunisian army detected "suspicious movements by a group of seven unarmed men heading from the city towards the mountain."

The protests started near the municipality and then swept through the centre of Hay al-Tadamon
- Local witness

He said that an army helicopter pursued the group and a military force arrested them "to question them about the reasons why they were climbing up the mountain."

Protests and clashes with security forces started in Kasserine following the death on Saturday of an unemployed man who was electrocuted atop a power pole near the governor's office.

Ridha Yahyaoui, 28, was protesting after his name was removed from a list of hires for coveted public sector jobs.

"It's as if we were back in 2010-2011," Al-Shuruk newspaper wrote, referring to the revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The uprising was sparked by the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in nearby Sidi Bouzid, in protest at unemployment and police harassment in December 2010 and died a month later.

In the face of this week's burgeoning unrest, Prime Minister Habib Essid cut short a European tour to return home on Thursday.

Essid is to chair an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday and give a news conference, his office said in a statement.

Despite the success of Tunisia's political transition in the past five years, the authorities have failed to resolve the problems of social exclusion and regional disparities.

No 'magic wand'

As the protests spread, protesters on Thursday cut off roads in Sidi Bouzid and clashed with police, while similar demonstrations were reported in the central towns of Jendouba, Gafsa and Kebili.

We do not have a magic wand to end it in a short period of time
- Tunisian PM Habib Essid

President Beji Caid Essebsi has acknowledged his government had "inherited a very difficult situation" with "700,000 unemployed and 250,000 of them young people who have degrees".

Tunisia's economy has been hard hit by political instability combined with militant attacks that have hobbled its vital tourism sector.

"Unemployment is the key problem which we must confront and one of the priorities of the government," Essid said on Thursday in a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

But "we do not have a magic wand to end it in a short period of time", the prime minister said before flying back home.

Agencies contributed to this report