Scattered clashes in Tunisia as more protests expected

Tunis (AFP) –


Young Tunisians clashed with security forces overnight and protest organisers called for anti-government rallies Wednesday after five days of riots in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi acknowledged their "legitimate" anger in a televised address Tuesday evening, but said violence was "unacceptable", vowing to "confront it with the force of law".

Hundreds have been arrested since the nighttime clashes broke out on Friday, the day after the North African country marked 10 years since longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Tunisia often sees protests around such key anniversaries in January, but this year's clashes come as the coronavirus pandemic has deepened economic and social woes.

Much of the unrest has hit working-class neighbourhoods, where anger is boiling over soaring unemployment and a political class accused of failing to deliver good governance a decade on from the 2011 revolution.

Tuesday night saw fewer clashes than previous nights, with some disturbances in poorer neighbourhoods of the capital Tunis as well as in the marginalised interior regions of Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid, AFP correspondents reported.

Clashes also took place in the cities of Kasserine, Kairouan and Kef, according to National Guard spokesman Houssemeddine Jebabli, who said a further 41 people had been arrested.

He added that 21 security personnel had been wounded since Saturday. No figures were available for the number of protesters injured.

The interior ministry had said Monday that more than 600 people had been arrested.

A handful of protestors gathered outside a key Tunis court on Wednesday morning to demand justice for detainees, many of whom are minors.

They also demanded the release of an activist arrested for attempting to protest despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions on January 14, the anniversary of the revolution, in the capital's emblematic Bourguiba Avenue.

Activists were planning another protest Wednesday afternoon to demand the release of detainees, in defiance of the ongoing ban on large gatherings.

During a debate in parliament, several lawmakers urged the government to listen to young people's demands, rather than to demonise them, and urged it to scale back its heavy-handed security crackdown.