In defiance of a ban on demonstrations, hundreds of Tunisians marched in central Tunis on Saturday to protest against inequality and police brutality, a decade after the Arab Spring revolution which bought sweeping change in the North African region.
Chanting “the people want the fall of the regime”, protesters held up banners and slogans decrying the security response to more than a week of demonstrations and nightly clashes between youths and police in cities across Tunisia.
The government banned protests last week in what it said was an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as security forces tried to block off the city’s main central avenue and prevent the crowd from congregating.
The protests, 10 years after a popular revolt against autocratic rule introduced democracy in Tunisia, represent the biggest bout of political unrest in several years, with police detaining hundreds of people.
“We can’t accept a police state in Tunisia 10 years after the revolution… it is shameful,” said Mahmoud, a young cafe worker who did not give his family name.
While the youths clashing with riot police after dark in poor districts of Tunisian cities have voiced few clear political aims, daytime protests have focused on the lack of jobs and on the police response to demonstrations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated an already dire economy in Tunisia, where many young people seek only to immigrate to Europe and see few opportunities at home.
At Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the stately tree-lined thoroughfare running from the sea up to the old city of Tunis, police placed barricades to stop protesters gathering.
Demonstrators instead rallied outside the central bank building and marched through the city, plainclothes police moving on each side with two-way radios.
Though protesters later managed to reach Habib Bourguiba, a symbolic focal point of the 2011 uprising, the attempt to close off the avenue underscored government unease at the momentum of the protests.(Source: The Straits Times)