Siliana, Tunisia, Dec 1, 2012 (AFP) -
Siliana, Tunisia, Dec 1, 2012 (AFP) –
Fresh clashes broke out on Saturday for the fifth straight day in Tunisia’s flashpoint town of Siliana, where police are battling to maintain order, as unrest spreads and political instability mounts two years after the revolution.
Separate clashes erupted between police and demonstrators in Bargou, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Siliana, epicentre of Tunisian unrest this week, where residents are demanding the governor’s resignation, financial aid and the withdrawal of police.
In Siliana itself, where intense clashes since Tuesday have left more than 300 people wounded, around 100 stone-throwing youths attacked the police, injuring one of them in the head, an AFP journalist reported.
Security forces fired tear gas in response.
The protesters erected barricades from branches and tyres, setting some of them on fire.
Precarious living conditions, widespread unemployment and police brutality were driving factors behind the revolution that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January last year and touched off the Arab Spring.
Residents in Bargou blocked a road and hurled rocks at police vehicles heading for Tunis, with the police firing tear gas in response. There were similar clashes overnight in at least two other towns, local media and witnesses reported, as the crisis appeared to be spreading.
President Moncef Marzouki had warned of such a scenario on Friday evening, saying the government of Islamist and rival Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali was not meeting the expectations of the people.
“We do not have a single Siliana… I am afraid that it could spread to several regions and threaten the future of the revolution,” Marzouki said in a televised speech.
“The expectations of the people are huge and the performance of the government is not meeting those expectations,” he added, stressing that Tunisia was at a crossroads between “the road to ruin and the road to recovery.”
Later on Friday, police fired tear gas at protesters who took to the streets of Sbeitla, near the central city of Kasserine, in support of the people of Siliana, a poor town some 120 kilometres (70 miles) southwest of Tunis.
The army withdrew from the flashpoint town just hours after it entered on Friday, a police official said.
“The army had offered to come and provide security for a few days, but the interior ministry refused,” the official told AFP, in remarks echoed by two police sources.
“The governor must resign. It’s the only way of restoring calm,” he added. The authorities have said they would not give in to the blackmail of violence, accusing the protesters of triggering the crisis by attacking police first.
But the government did announce that talks would take place on Saturday with the UGTT trade union in a bid to resolve the crisis.
Thousands took to the streets on Friday — demanding Governor Ahmed Ezzine Majjoubi’s resignation and financial aid in a fourth straight day of unrest — where the authorities have been battling to maintain order.
Clashes intensified in the early evening, when police fired warning shots and tear gas after hundreds of protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs at them and erected barricades in the town centre, setting some of them on fire.
The protesters have said they will continue their agitation until Mahjoubi steps down, police repression ends and a development programme for the region is put in place. Jebali has refused to sack Mahjoubi.
Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay both called on the authorities to end the use of “excessive force” against the protesters in Siliana.
The latest violence follows mounting clashes, strikes and attacks by hard-line Islamists known as Salafists across Tunisia that have plunged the country into a political impasse.
It also comes ahead of the second anniversary of the revolution, triggered on December 17, 2010 when a young fruit and vegetable seller set himself alight in the town of Sidi Bouzid to protest against police harassment.