Tunisians march against police brutality, inequality, as government bans gatherings amid spike in COVID-19 cases.
Hundreds of people marched through the Tunisian capital on Saturday to protest against police repression, corruption and poverty, after several nights of unrest marked by clashes and arrests.
Protesters in Tunis chanted “No more fear, the streets belong to the people” and “the people want the fall of the regime” – a slogan popularized during the Arab Spring ten years ago. They also held up banners calling for the release of hundreds of protesters detained since January 14.
Police say more than 700 people were arrested following clashes last week, in which young people threw stones and gasoline bombs at security forces, who responded with tear gas and gasoline. water cannons.
Human rights groups say at least 1,000 people have been arrested.
“We cannot accept a police state in Tunisia 10 years after the revolution… it’s shameful,” said Mahmoud, a young cafe worker who did not give his last name.
Much of the unrest has taken place in disenfranchised and marginalized areas, where anger boils over skyrocketing unemployment and a political class accused of failing to ensure good governance a decade after the revolution of 2011 that toppled longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Although young people who clash with riot police after dark in poor areas of Tunisian cities have expressed few clear political goals, daytime protests have focused on the lack of jobs and on police response to protests.
“The situation is dire,” said Omar Jawadi, 33, hotel sales manager, who received only half his salary for months amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Politicians are corrupt, we want to change the government and the system.”
Saturday’s protests came as Tunisia struggled to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the economy and threatened to overwhelm hospitals. More than 6,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Tunisia, with a record 103 deaths reported on Thursday.
The government extended a nighttime curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. (7 p.m. to 4 a.m. GMT) on Saturday and banned gatherings until February 14.
From Monday, the government is also banning travel between regions and ordering all people over 65 to stay at home amid stricter antivirus measures announced on Saturday by a spokesperson for the Tunisian health ministry. , Nissaf Ben Alaya Ben Alaya.
Restaurants and bars will remain closed except for take-out. Schools and universities can resume studies on Monday but many classes will be transferred online. Ben Alaya threatened “drastic measures” against violators, saying the country was “at a critical time” in its battle against COVID-19.
In the capital, police have placed barricades along Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the majestic tree-lined artery stretching from the sea to the old town of Tunis, in an attempt to stop the gathering of protesters.
Instead, protesters gathered outside the central bank building and marched through the city, with plainclothes police moving on either side with two-way radios.
Although the protesters later managed to reach Habib Bourguiba, a symbolic focal point of the 2011 uprising, the attempt to close the avenue underscored the government’s unease with the momentum of the protests. The protest was allowed for two hours, and police fired tear gas to disperse crowds when the two hours were up.
Tunisia last week marked a decade since Ben Ali fled the country amid mass protests, ending 23 years in power.
Tunisian political leadership is divided, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi waiting for Parliament to confirm a major cabinet reshuffle announced last Saturday.