Tunsisians protest against mass arrests in nighttime clashes
Tunisians protested on Jan. 20 to demand the release of hundreds of young demonstrators arrested in several nights of disturbances, venting their anger also against the government’s handling of a deepening social crisis.
Around 100 people rallied in Tunis and a similar number in the city of Sousse, in defiance of gatherings that have been forbidden by authorities following a recent surge in coronavirus cases.
"We want the detainees to be freed," the protesters cried in Sousse.
In Tunis, protesters - many of them students - shouted slogans from the country’s 2011 revolution, including "freedom, work, national dignity", as they moved along the capital’s arterial Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
The protests come as the economy is in free-fall, youth unemployment soars and anger rises against a political class that has shown itself incapable of pulling together for the nation - gripes in sharpened focus as the country last week marked 10 years since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi acknowledged Tunisians’ "legitimate" anger in a televised address Tuesday evening, but said violence was "unacceptable" and vowed to "confront it with the force of law".
Hundreds have been arrested since the nighttime clashes erupted on Friday, amid a four-day lockdown imposed the previous day, the date on which Ben Ali fled into exile in the early days of the Arab Spring. Many of those detained are minors.
Tunisia often sees protests around such key anniversaries in January, but this year’s clashes come as the coronavirus pandemic has deepened socio-economic woes.
Much of the unrest has hit working-class neighborhoods.
Jan. 19 saw fewer clashes than previous nights, with some disturbances in poorer neighborhoods of Tunis as well as in the marginalized interior regions of Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid, AFP correspondents reported.
Clashes also took place in the cities of Kasserine, Kairouan and Kef, according to National Guard spokesman Houssemeddine Jebabli, who said a further 41 people had been arrested.
He added that 21 security personnel had been injured since Saturday. No figures were available for the number of protesters hurt.
The interior ministry had said on Jan. 18 that more than 600 people had been arrested.
A handful of protesters gathered outside a key Tunis court on Jan. 20 morning to demand justice for detainees.
They also demanded the release of an activist arrested for attempting to protest despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions on January 14.
During a debate in parliament, several lawmakers urged the government to listen to young people’s demands, rather than to demonize them, and urged it to scale back its heavy-handed security crackdown.