Protesters and security forces clash in several cities as President Kais Saied and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi urge restraint.
Tunisian protesters clashed with police for the fifth night in several cities, including the capital Tunis and Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings, as anger and frustration mounted over economic hardship made worse by the pandemic.
Earlier Tuesday, demonstrators gathered in Tunis, rekindling the song that sounded ten years ago in a revolution that ushered in democracy: “The people want the fall of the regime.”
In Sidi Bouzid, where the 2011 revolution began, witnesses told Reuters news agency police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who brandished slogans against politicians and demanded an end to decades of marginalization .
Clashes also erupted in poor areas of Tunis, including el-Tadamen and Sijoumi, as hundreds of angry youths burned tires and blocked roads.
Daytime protests in recent days to demand jobs, dignity and the release of detainees have been followed by nighttime violence, with COVID-19 restrictions exacerbating wider economic unrest.
“The whole system must disappear … We will return to the streets and we will regain our rights and our dignity which a corrupt elite seized after the revolution,” said Maher Abid, an unemployed protester.
Shortly before the 10th anniversary of the revolution last week, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government ordered a four-day lockdown and stricter nighttime curfew against the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a ban on protests.
However, in Tunisian towns, young people threw stones and gasoline bombs, burned tires and looted shops while the police used tear gas and batons on them, arresting hundreds of people.
‘Your anger is legitimate’
Mechichi said in a speech on national television on Tuesday that the government was listening to protesters’ demands.
“I am aware that there is a lot of anger and frustration in many areas as the economic and social situation is in crisis and this has been made worse by the COVID crisis with its economic implications and the measures it required to preserve the health of Tunisians and who certain personal freedoms such as freedom of movement. “
“Your voice is heard and your anger is legitimate… Don’t leave the saboteurs among you,” he said, addressing the protesters.
Up to 250 people gathered on Avenue Bourguiba in central Tunis on Tuesday, while other demonstrations took place in towns near Sidi Bouzid.
Protesters at the three rallies chanted “the people want the regime to fall” and called for more jobs.
Tunisia’s economic crisis, unemployment and lack of basic services – all made worse by the pandemic – angered protesters.
The protests have led to a harsh backlash from authorities who fear a repeat of the protests that led to the overthrow of longtime President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali 10 years ago.
Earlier, the powerful union and other rights groups had expressed support for peaceful protests against “the policies of marginalization, impoverishment and starvation”, accusing the state of wasting hopes for the revolution.