Tunisian riot police shot water cannons at protesters outside the heavily barricaded parliament on Tuesday as they tried to quell the largest rally since protests began this month against inequality and police abuse .
Hundreds of protesters marched through the capital’s Ettadhamen neighborhood where young people clashed with police every night for over a week, and were joined by hundreds more near parliament.
Police blocked the march with barricades to prevent protesters from approaching the parliament building where lawmakers were holding a tense debate over a controversial government reshuffle.
Protesters started trying to break through barriers and police were pushing them back pic.twitter.com/zqxstv77j1
– Ghaya Ben Mbarek (@Ghaya_BM) January 26, 2021
“The government which only uses the police to protect itself from the people – it no longer has legitimacy,” said unemployed protester Salem Ben Saleh.
Protests erupted this month on the 10th anniversary of the Tunisian revolution of 2011 that inspired this Arab Spring and brought democracy to the North African country. Political paralysis and economic decline embittered many Tunisians over the fruits of the uprising.
In parliament, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi proposed a new cabinet, a move President Kais Saied rejected on Monday as unconstitutional.
Mechichi told the assembly that by appointing 11 new ministers of the interior, justice, health and other key portfolios, he aimed to create a “more effective” reform team.
The session comes a day after protesters clashed with police in the town of Sbeitla, in marginalized central Tunisia, after a young man was killed by a tear gas canister during clashes last week to the hospital.
Politicians criticized a massive deployment of police around the parliament building after calling for a rally there.
More police joined. Truck with water cannon moves pic.twitter.com/ErFnIGAn4t
– Fadil Aliriza (@FadilAliriza) January 26, 2021
“A vote of confidence under the police headquarters,” said one. “All that’s missing is to vote at the threat of the stick.”
Calls for restraint
Tunisia’s political deadlock since the 2019 elections has crippled its efforts to tackle lingering economic problems with foreign lenders and major unions demanding reforms.
Last year, as the global pandemic struck, the Tunisian economy contracted by more than 8%, with the budget deficit exceeding 12% of gross domestic product, pushing public debt to over 90% of GDP.
The nightly clashes between young people and the police were accompanied by more and more demonstrations during the day during which the demonstrators chanted slogans, notably “the people want the fall of the regime”.
Protesters chanted against security forces on Tuesday as some opposition MPs left parliament to join the protest.
“Mechichi turned this into a police state… no work, no development, no investment… just police against the people,” said Imed, another protester who refused to give his last name. .
Mechichi said his goal was “greater efficiency in the work of government.”
Amnesty International has previously called for police restraint after video footage of police officers appearing to beat and drag protesters during clashes was broadcast.
“The Tunisian security forces must immediately refrain from using unnecessary and excessive force to disperse the demonstrators who took to the streets of the capital and several governorates, against marginalization, police violence, poverty and lack of opportunities jobs, ”Amnesty International said in a recent statement. the week.
Meanwhile, mothers in the Tunisian capital have accused authorities of arbitrarily arresting their children in response to the unrest, with rights groups saying at least 1,000 people have been arrested.