Friday, November 30, 2012

Protesters, Police Clash in Flashpoint Tunisia Town

Protesters, police clash in flashpoint Tunisia town

AFP, Friday 30 Nov 2012

Protesters clashed with police Friday in Tunisia's flashpoint town of Siliana, where violence has left hundreds wounded this week, as political instability mounts two years after the revolution.

Thousands took to the streets of the impoverished town demanding the governor's resignation and financial aid in a fourth straight day of unrest, with the authorities battling to maintain order.

In a repeat of events on Thursday, protesters attacked a police station, hurling rocks and erecting barricades, with the police firing tear gas and chasing the demonstrators through the streets, an AFP journalist reported.

A local representative of the UGTT, Tunisia's main trade union, which had called Friday's demonstration, urged the protesters to disperse.

"Go back home, it's dangerous. They will fire on you with live rounds," shouted Abdesattar Manai.

The symbolic march towards Tunis, which was initially peaceful, drew a crowd of thousands, who took part on foot, in cars and on motorcycles, chanting: "With our souls and our blood we sacrifice for Siliana."

Protesters told AFP they would continue their agitation until governor Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi steps down, police repression ends and a development programme for the region is put in place.

In Tunis, around 100 people marched on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the city centre in support of the protesters in Siliana, shouting slogans, including "The people want the fall of the regime!" that were used during last year's uprising.

More than 300 people have been wounded since Tuesday when the protesters first took to the streets of Siliana, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of the capital, sparking clashes with police.

President Moncef Marzouki is due to address the situation there in a televised speech at 1900 GMT.

The streets of the town were Friday littered with stones and the charred remains of barricades from previous unrest.

Residents also set up roadblocks on the highway leading to Tunis, according to AFP reporters.

"We will undertake a symbolic march to show the determination of the people against (economic) marginalisation," the UGTT's regional secretary general Nejib Sebti told AFP earlier, urging the crowd to march "quietly and peacefully".

A delegation from Sidi Bouzid -- the birthplace of the revolution that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and touched off the Arab Spring -- was expected to arrive later on Friday.

"We are ready for dialogue but without the presence of the governor," Sebti added.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has refused to sack the governor.

Protesters have complained about police violence during the protests since Tuesday. "This is what the Ennahda (the ruling Islamist party) police did to me," said a man showing injuries to his legs and hips.

Jebali has promised an investigation into the violence, which he said was threatening the country's fledgling democracy as it approaches the second anniversary of the revolution triggered on December 17, 2010.

"We will investigate the possible excessive use of force and the origins of the violence," while demanding accountability from those responsible for "this catastrophe," Jebali said on Thursday.

The demands of protesters could not be achieved in chaos and "we will not accept the ... destruction of democracy," he said, while insisting that he is open to dialogue to address the problems of the region.

The violence in Siliana comes as clashes, strikes and attacks by Salafists have multiplied across Tunisia, plunging the country into a political impasse.

Much of Tunisia's interior suffers from a chronic lack of development and has seen rising discontent over the government's failure to improve living standards.

Precarious living conditions and widespread unemployment were driving factors behind Ben Ali's overthrow in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that have since swept the region.

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