Protesters clash with police on Tunisian island

AFP, TUNIS

Mon, Oct 08, 2012 - Page 6

Forty-nine policemen were injured in clashes with demonstrators protesting against the reopening of a garbage dump on Tunisia’s tourist island of Djerba on Saturday, an interior ministry spokesman said.

“A large number of protesters in the center of Guellala attacked a police post with rocks and petrol bombs,” Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche said. “There were 49 police injured, with fractures and other injuries caused by rocks and petrol bombs.”

He said six police vehicles were burned, no arrests were made and two demonstrators hurt, “which shows the violence came from the protesters, not the police.”

Tarrouche said reinforcements have been sent from the capital to Guellala, a town of about 13,000 people in southern Djerba.

The spokesman said the trouble was sparked when the local authorities decided to reopen a garbage dump until next year.

In the morning, about 40 protesters blocked access to the site, and after negotiations with the authorities failed, security forces fired tear gas to disperse them.

During the afternoon, a larger crowd took to the streets in the center of Guellala, where they attacked the police, Tarrouche said.

Since last year’s revolution ousted former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Djerba has been spared the violence afflicting other parts of Tunisia, where clashes between police and protesters are common.

On Friday in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to break into the regional government headquarters.

Such protests have multiplied in recent weeks, amid rising discontent over poor living conditions, including unemployment, regular water cuts and the state’s failure to collect rubbish, as well as other social grievances.

Sidi Bouzid is where Tunisia’s mass uprising first began that touched off the Arab Spring. Poor living conditions were a driving factor behind the revolution.

The Islamist-led government, despite coming to power just a year ago after the first free elections in decades, is frequently accused of having failed to improve the living standards of ordinary Tunisians.

As the authorities have acknowledged, improved security is critical to the revival of the tourism sector, a key driver of the economy, contributing around 7 percent of GDP and employing 400,000 people.