Hundreds of people demonstrated for a third straight day yesterday in a poor Tunisian town, raising fears of fresh violence after bloody clashes the day before, witnesses said.
Protesters in Siliana gathered at the headquarters of Tunisia’s largest trade union, UGTT, which had called a general strike, before taking to the streets to demand that Siliana Governor Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi step down, funds to boost development and the release of demonstrators arrested in April last year.
Clashes with police in Siliana on Wednesday wounded more than 250 people, but UGTT leader Nejib Sebti said he hoped violence would be avoided yesterday.
“There will be no violence because the police have withdrawn, but the governor must go for the strike to end,” he said.
However, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali insisted in a brief television appearance on Wednesday evening that “this governor is not quitting.”
There were no police on the town’s streets early yesterday, a journalist reported, even outside the governorate’s head offices, which authorities said were attacked the day before.
Stones, burned tires and the tree trunks littered the streets in signs of Wednesday’s violence.
Shops were closed, and the UGTT said the strike was being observed across the region, which lies more than 100km south of Tunis.
“We want a little consideration. We are human beings made of flesh and bones,” protester Maoubi said.
The authorities have warned they would crackdown on protests if they turned violent, but would not interrupt peaceful demonstrations.
Protesters are also demanding action against police officers who fired on demonstrators with small-caliber birdshot on Wednesday, wounding dozens.
Medics at the hospital in Siliana said 265 people had been treated for bruises, fractures and cuts on the second day of protests.
Nineteen people were hit in the eye and some of them transferred to a clinic in Tunis for treatment.
The protest was sparked by the same sort of economic grievance that fueled the Arab Spring uprising that toppled former Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali early last year.
“The people of Siliana most affected by poverty will never go down on their knees,” Sebti said.
Investment in the Siliana region fell by 44.5 percent from January to last month compared with the same period last year.
Much of Tunisia’s interior suffers from a chronic lack of development and has seen growing social unrest.