Tunisian protests over tough living conditions spread
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Tunisian protests over tough living conditions spread

Clashes between demonstrators and security forces grow after journalist self-immolates to draw attention to economic hardships, in echo of 2010 Arab Spring uprising

Tunisian policemen stand in a street during a demonstration on December 25, 2018 in the Tunisian city of Kasserine. (Hatem SALHI / AFP)
Tunisian policemen stand in a street during a demonstration on December 25, 2018 in the Tunisian city of Kasserine. (Hatem SALHI / AFP)

KASSERINE, Tunisia — Clashes between Tunisian protesters and security forces spread from an impoverished western city, authorities said Wednesday, as anger grew over the death of a journalist who set himself on fire over economic conditions.

In the western city of Kasserine, police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths in a second night of unrest, an AFP journalist said Wednesday.

Clashes also broke out in the eastern town of Jbeniana, where a policeman was injured, and in Tebourba in the north where at least five people were arrested, national security spokesman Walid Hkima said.

The unrest follows the death of 32-year-old journalist Abderrazk Zorgui on Monday after setting himself ablaze in Kasserine.

The interior ministry said one person had been arrested for alleged involvement in the desperate act of protest, which triggered an outpouring of anger in the city with protesters setting tires on fire and blocking roads.

Tunisian police fire tear gas toward protesters during a demonstration on December 25, 2018, in the central Tunisian city of Kasserine. (Hatem Salhi/AFP)

Thirteen people were arrested in Kasserine for “acts of destruction” during the unrest, interior ministry spokesman Hichem Fourati said.

In a video before his death, Zorgui said “for the sons of Kasserine who have no means of subsistence, today I start a revolution.”

Echoes of revolution

It was the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia in late 2010 in protest at police harassment that sparked Tunisia’s revolution and the Arab Spring uprisings across the rest of the region the next year.

Kasserine was one of the first cities to rise up after the vendor’s death, in protests that saw police kill demonstrators.

The unrest spread across the country and led to the overthrow of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In this Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 file photo, demonstrators scatter after police officers use teargas during a protest in Tunis, Tunisia. (AP/Christophe Ena, File)

Despite the country’s democratic transition since then, authorities are still struggling to improve poor living conditions in the face of rampant inflation and persistent unemployment.

“There’s a rupture between the political class and young people especially those living in insecurity in Tunisia’s interior who see their future as uncertain,” said the president of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Messaoud Romdhani.

He expects the protest movement to spread to other regions because of “the lack of a real political will to address the real problems of Tunisians”.

In recent months, political life in Tunisia has been paralyzed by power struggles ahead of presidential elections set for 2019.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, right, greets Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono, left, prior to their talks at the Tunisian prime minister office in Tunis, Tunisia, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. (AP/Hassene Dridi)

Tunisia’s national union of journalists called for a general strike on January 14 to mark the eight anniversary of the revolution.

Zorgui’s self-immolation “is a sign of rejection of a catastrophic situation, regional imbalances, high unemployment among young people and the misery in which our fellow citizens live in the interior regions,” the Tunisian newspaper Le Quotidien said.

“No one can deny today that all the leaders of this country are responsible, responsible for the distress of our youth, their despair and their frustration,” added the French-language daily.

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