Police use force to break up Tunisia protest
Demonstrators defy government ban amid growing anger over worsening economy and increasing clout of Salafis.
Police in Tunisia have fired tear gas to disperse a rally to commemorate Martyrs’ Day and protest against the worsening economic situation and lack of employment in the north African nation.
Nearly a thousand demonstrators turned out on Monday morning to a protest on Habib Bourguia Avenue in the capital Tunis, defying a government ban on protests.
Protesters sought shelter in neighbouring streets and shops, as police beat them with batons and fired tear gas into the scattered crowd.
A protest on Saturday was met with similar violence.
The coalition government, dominated by the conservative Ennahdha party, has come under increasing pressure from a population hungry for change.
Secular opponents accuse Ennahdha, which advocates political Islam, of turning a blind eye to a small but vocal ultra-conservative group of Salafi activists they fear are trying impose their austere interpretation of Islam on the country.
Salafis have held mass protests in recent weeks demanding the implementation of sharia, or Islamic law. At their last protest last month, Salafis attacked the national theatre in Tunis, tearing down posters and roughing up some actors.
Meanwwhile, a group claiming affiliation with cyberactivist collective Anonymous has published 2,725 emails belonging to Tunisia’s ruling Ennahdha party, including those of the prime minister.
In a video posted on a Facebook page belonging to Anonymous TN, a hacker wearing the trademark activist “Guy Fawkes” mask, said the emails were released in protest against Ennahdha’s alleged failure to protect the unemployed and artists who were attacked by Salafi Islamists.
The activist said the emails include phone numbers, bank transactions and invoices paid during Tunisia’s election campaign in October, in which Ennahdha won more than 40 per cent of parliament seats.
One of the emails was from Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a senior Ennahda official, to the Turkish embassy, attaching Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem’s CV.
“To the Tunisian government, we have kept a large part of your data secret. If you do not wish to see these published on the internet we ask you to work to the best of your ability to avoid internet censorship and to respect human rights and the freedom of expression in Tunisia,” the activist said.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the emails or when they were accessed.
Government officials declined detailed comment on the security breach but said many of the emails appeared to be old.
“We are still trying to confirm if Jebali’s hacked account was from before he became prime minister or after,” Jebali’s spokesperson, Rida Kezdaghli, told the Reuters press agency.
Amid rising political tensions, several Tunisian centrist opposition parties including the centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) have agreed to combine forces and gain more clout ahead of the general elections due in late 2012.
Its exact name and the make-up of its leadership was due be announced in the eastern city of Sousse on Monday.
Five other small parties and a group of independent politicians were expected to join its ranks.
“We will make the battle against the scourge of unemployment, for equality and the respect of Tunisians’ fundamental rights… our programme,” the PDP’s Maya Jribi said ahead of the formal announcement.
Six months after the election and 100 days after the new government took over “there is no clear strategy, no promise has been kept, the revolution which called for jobs and dignity is threatened,” she added.
— With reporting from Youssef Gaigi in Tunis
Protests Banned on Avenue Bourguiba, Theatre of Tunisia’s Revolution
Adam Le Nevez
The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior announced today on its official Facebook page that protests would henceforth be banned on Avenue Habib Bourguiba.
Avenue Habib Bourguiba is one of the best known thoroughfares in the country and is often described as the Tunisian Champs Elysées. It is particularly symbolic for many Tunisians because it was the site of many of the critical protests that led to the overthrow of the former president Zine El Abddine Ben Ali during the January 2011 Tunisian Revolution.
A number of important buildings are located on the Avenue, including the French Embassy, the Municipal Theatre as well as the once feared Ministry of Interior headquarters.
The proclamation from the Ministry of Interior bans “all demonstrations, marches and any other form of collective expression on Avenue Bourguiba, Tunis” and is to take effect immediately.
The communiqué states the decision to ban protests was made after complaints from a number of businesses and organizations on the thoroughfare, as well as from private citizens over “violations made during some demonstrations.
The banning of protests on the Avenue Bourguiba comes only days after a large demonstration by Salafists on Sunday. That protest ended in violence when a number of Salafists descended the avenue and attacked a group of dramatists staging an unrelated event in front of the Municipal Theater. On the Ministry of Interior’s Facebook page, the Ministry denied violence occurred and claimed that all dramatists were protected by police and returned home safely.
Protesting in most other parts of Tunis is still allowed, provided organizers fulfill a set of requirements set out by the ministry. These include giving 72 hours notice, identifying the precise location and route of any march as well as providing adequate security to ensure public safety.
Police clash with anti-govt protesters in central Tunis
TUNIS (Reuters) – Police clashed with thousands of anti-government protesters in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis on Monday, defying a ban on demonstrations in the area – a focal point of the revolt that ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali more than a year ago.
At least 2,000 protesters came out to mark the Martyrs’ Day holiday, which commemorates the 1938 suppression of pro-independence demonstrators by French colonial troops.
As they reached the interior ministry on Habib Bourguiba, they were met by police who fired tear gas to clear the crowd.
Police beat back groups of protesters with batons and chased stone-throwing youths down side streets in scenes reminiscent of the tactics used during Ben Ali’s 23 years as president, when Tunisia was a police state and freedoms severely restricted.
“The people want the fall of the regime,” protesters chanted, echoing the demand that was coined in Tunisia during the 2011 revolution and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which won post-revolution elections in October, is under pressure from secular parties to improve economic conditions and not give religion too prominent a place in public life.
Monday’s crackdown, the worst in the capital for months, is likely to prove a public relations nightmare for the Islamist-led coalition government, already reeling from an attack by activist hackers on the prime minister’s emails.
Protesters on Monday likened Ennahda to the Trabelsi family of Ben Ali’s wife Leila, widely blamed by Tunisians for the rampant corruption of the final years of his rule. “The people are sick of the new Trabelsis,” protesters chanted.
Tunisia has changed enormously since the revolution, with a democratic system now in place and ordinary people able to speak and demonstrate freely for the first time in memory.
But the interior ministry decided to ban rallies on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in late March after local hotels, restaurants and other businesses complained that repeated protests and counter-protests were snarling traffic and disrupting business.
The ban infuriated opponents of the government who chose Monday’s public holiday to defy the police.
“No fear, no terror, the street belongs to the people,” the crowds chanted as they confronted police.
Numbers at the rally quickly shrank, and groups of dozens of demonstrators faced off with police. Reuters journalists saw protesters fainting from tear gas and others hobbling away with bruises.
Social networking sites buzzed with rumors that some protesters suffered life-threatening head injuries at the hands of police. One Reuters witness heard police officers urging each other on to beat back protesters and journalists. It was not immediately possible to verify reports of serious casualties.
Tunisia’s revolution ousted Ben Ali in January 2011. In October, Ennahda won more than 40 percent of seats in the constituent assembly in the country’s first free elections.
From the outset, Ennahda has faced strong opposition from secular parties and Tunisia’s powerful labor union, who fear it will impose conservative religious values on a country long known for its liberal and secular outlook.
Ennahda has promised not to ban alcohol or enforce wearing veils but has faced pressure from conservative Salafi Islamists pushing for a greater role for religion in public life.
The party, which leads the government in coalition with two secular groups, has tried to steer a middle course but the clashes are likely to cause a political backlash.
Protesters and opposition groups accused Ennahda of sending in masked thugs in plain clothes, who could be seen chasing protesters, to back police. An Ennahda official, speaking to the official TAP news agency, denied those claims and said its supporters were peacefully marking the day in another location.
The youth arm of the secular opposition party Ettajdid issued a statement on Facebook condemning the crackdown.
“We call on the interior ministry to open an immediate inquiry to identify those responsible,” it said.
“We affirm our right to demonstrate, particularly on Habib Bourguiba, which is a symbol of the revolution, and our defense … of the unconditional freedom of speech and protest.”
Peaceful March of Unemployed Graduates in Tunis Dispersed by Police
Today, Tunisian police dispersed a peaceful march organized by around 400 unemployed university graduates and human rights activists in Mohamed Ali Square in front of the General Tunisian Workers’ Union (UGTT) headquarters.
The protesters’ demands were the right to work. Policemen used clubs and tear gas to disperse the protesters as they attempted to reach Habib Bourguiba Avenue. The protesters subsequently took refuge in the UGTT headquarters.
Belgacem Ben Abdallah, president of the Tunisian Union of Unemployed University Graduates (TUUUG), told Tunisia Live that they are protesting to ask for their right to work since 2006. They held the government responsible for the lack of decent jobs available to university graduates, many of whom have been unemployed for a long time.
“After the revolution, the TUUUG was able to restructure its members all over the country in the new environment of freedom. This is the third national march we make. The first one took place in May 2011 and a second one in February 2012,” stated Belgacem.
“Our march is about work, freedom and national dignity. Each unemployed person must receive unemployment benefits,” he highlighted. Belgacem also insisted that recruitment of employees should be done by taking into account those who have been unemployed for a long time.
He denounced “the violence and barbarity of police.” “This reminds us of Ben Ali’s tactics,” he pointed. “They attacked 25 people, some were hit in the head, others had their legs broken, and were taken to hospital.”
The Tunisian Ministry of Interior stated in a press release that the protesters took on an unauthorized march in the Bourguiba Avenue, despite the decision issued by the Ministry of Interior banning marches in the Tunis’ main boulevard. This decision came under effect on March 28th, 2012 as a measure to protect public and private interests, including those of commercial and touristic institutions and to guarantee smooth traffic in Avenue Bourguiba.
“Protesters forced their way through a security barrier in the crossing between Avenue de France and Rue de Rome”
Protesters banned from marching on Tunis’ main street clash with police
TUNIS, Tunisia — Police used tear gas and truncheons to disperse protesters seeking to march Monday along the Tunisian capital’s main boulevard despite a ban on demonstrations there. Some of the protesters hurled bricks in response.
Bourguiba Avenue has been the main site for protests since Tunisians overthrew their longtime dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a year ago. But last week, authorities barred marches along the thoroughfare because of what they described as threats to “public order.”
The ban followed weeks of rival demonstrations between groups calling for and against the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab country, which was staunchly secular under the former regime but now has a moderate Islamist party leading the government.
Some 2,000 people from civil society organizations and labor unions tried to march along the tree-line street Monday in honor of Martyr’s Day, which marks when French colonial troops in 1938 open fired on demonstrators calling for a constitution.
Amid the tear gas and bricks, some riot police chased demonstrators down adjacent roads. There was no exact count on people wounded.
An attempted demonstration by unemployed university graduates on Saturday also was violently dispersed.
The labor movement and many civil society organizations who made up the demonstration Monday have been opposed to the new government run by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party that dominated elections in October.
“It was us who defended them when they were repressed under Ben Ali and today, now that they are in power, they repress us with the same practices of the old regime,” said Moufda Belghith of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women.
While Tunisia has seen a political flowering over the past year with the emergence of dozens of political parties and also nearly constant demonstrations, the economy has suffered from strikes that have paralyzed the industrial sector and drop in tourists.