Not satisfied with the changes announced Thursday by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, protestors from Sidi Bouzid and other rural areas who have been marching in the Kasbah for a week started a new protest Friday (January 28th) that ended in a clash with security forces.
The Kasbah protest began after the “Caravan of Liberation” arrived to object to the presence of former regime members in Tunisia’s National Unity Government. Demonstrators and civil society groups raised questions about police conduct in breaking up the rally.
“Our protest was peaceful and civilised and it was characterised by the existence of panel discussions to make the protestors aware,” said Walide Ghazzouni, a member of the supervisory committee for the caravan.
“After the recent ministerial modification we were contacted by some parties in order to find a new way to connect with the government by appointing a representative from each region, and we demanded a 24-hour time limit and we had it by order of Mohamed Ghannouchi, but on the same day protestors were subjected to brutal repression by the militia of the political police after the withdrawal of the army, which was ensuring our security,” Ghazzouni said about the Friday events.
He added, “These blatant attacks have set us back and made us lose confidence and trust that we were going to grant to the provisional government.”
The interior ministry, however, disputed the protestor’s version of events. In a statement released to TAP, the ministry said security forces moved to “remove barriers at the Kasbah Square, in response to the call of the local inhabitants, tradesmen and craftsmen, who had reported the damage and inconvenience they suffered as a result of the difficulty of traffic and movement between the Souks of the Medina and the Bab Bnet and 9 April avenues”.
“When fulfilling their mission, security officers were attacked by surprise by some of the protestors, who were observing a sit-in at the Kasbah Square and who thought that the operation of permutation of the police and easing of traffic aimed to attack them,” the statement continued.
The interior ministry said officers were working in “the interests of tradesmen, workers and inhabitants of the area” and acted “in self-defence” when firing teargas at protestors.
“I attended with others from human rights organisations to examine what happened, and we found traces of use of violence such as batons and lethal weapons and dogs to intimidate the protesters by the forces of the political police. And it is natural for the protesters to use stone for self-defence,” said Siham Bensedrine of the National Council of Freedoms.
She added, “It is obvious that the power is not equal between the two sides, causing protesters to be wounded and injured, where 22 individuals were unjustly arrested and accused of looting.”
“We are not against security and the security men in Tunisia because they keep the country and people safe, but we are against such repressive apparatuses and political police, especially those that always consider the Tunisian street as their private property,” Bensedrine said.
In an interview with Nessma TV, the interior minister said he would hold accountable the security officers who contributed to the suppression of the protesters.
“I have come here with a group of friends to protest and communicate our demands of social rights that we were denied previously,” Wadi Hammouda, a protestor from Sidi Bouzid, told Magharebia. He added, “I have nothing to do with the government and I am not interested in it, what concerns me is work and decent living.”
Salim Hassine, a professor and one of the protesters, told Magharebia that he considered the continued presence of Prime Minister Ghannouchi at the head of the government an extension of the former regime.
“We have noticed the presence of militias out of their uniforms, beating with batons and looting, and this is what made us lose confidence completely in this provisional government after a glimmer of hope to find ways to negotiate and therefore, we will continue our protests in every way,” Hassine said.
Lasaad, who is a young lawyer, said to Magharebia, “What is happening today is a resistance to the Ben Ali regime and his apparatuses of repression towards the revolution that seeks freedom and dignity. Today we see a state within a state, controlling in parallel with the real state and the interim government.”
Many of the traders around the Kasbah, however, were eager to return to work.
“We’re nearly bankrupt. They stopped all our business,” said shop owner Ahmed Oueslati, who chased down protesters with a metal pole.
“We want stability. We have a transitional government now. We are against chaos. These people want everything to change in a day,” he said to Reuters.
As for the protestors, they plan a return march from Tunis to Sidi Bouzid on Sunday in order to thank the people who began the revolution.