Riots return to the streets of Tunis

The riots continue on the streets of Tunisian capital Tunis for the second day running. On Friday approximately 100 000 people gathered at Kasbah, at the Tunisian governmental buildings, demanding the temporary government to step down. The demonstration was the biggest since the riots of December and January that ultimately led to the flight of the president Zine Abedin Ben Ali. Towards the evening the demonstration turned into a full-blown riot that saw the demonstrators, armed with rocks, lighting fires at the capital’s main street Habib Bourguiba. The riot police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. Several army helicopters circled around the area until the early hours of the Saturday as the shots and clashes continued late into the night.

The riots continued on Saturday after the noon and went on for hours. The shops and restaurants in the centre of the city had all been closed. The streets leading to Habib Bourguiba was awash with hundreds of rioters chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), demanding “end to the dictatorship”. The riot police, armed with protective shields, consisted of a couple of dozen officers. They approached the crowds from the main street using copious amounts of tear gas. Later also warning shots were heard and the helicopters returned to the area.

The rioters managed to throw some of the tear gas grenades back at the police. The air in the city centre was thick with the bitter smell of tear gas, but the crowds refused to back down. The situation got tenser towards the Saturday evening as the police managed to drive the rioters further away from the city centre. The police also seemed to have brought out bigger guns in their attempt to disperse the crowds. Rumours started that this time they were using real bullets. There were no records of anyone being injured in Friday’s events, but by Saturday evening at least three were confirmed injured. On Saturday there has also been one confirmed death as a young man was shot to death by the police. The Ministry of Interior has since confirmed three deaths at the weekend’s clashes.

The crowds, armed with sticks and pipes, built barricades on the streets and threw rocks at the riot police trying to get closer to them. Tunisians, gathered on the rooftops on the neighbouring streets have thrown rocks down, which the rioters break into smaller pieces, using them as their weapons. Those following the events from their windows have been providing the rioters with milk and water to ease the burning inflicted by the tear gas.

The crowd mainly consists of young men. Along with the rising living costs and other social problems, exceptionally high unemployment rate among the youth (well over 20% among academically educated) was one of the triggers behind the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution at the beginning this year.

The temporary government has been in power since the flight of the previous president Ben Ali. They are supposed to govern the country until the general elections which are expected to take place in the next 6 months. The temporary government has faced a lot of criticism, among other reasons because majority of its ministers, including the Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, were prominent figures also in the previous government. The temporary government has gone through several changes in the Tunisian turmoil. Latest of these is the resignation of its Minister of Foreign Affairs on February 12th.

The state of emergency in Tunisia continues. The curfew that was cancelled two weeks ago was reintroduced on Saturday evening. At the moment it only applies to city’s main street Habib Bourguiba.

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