Thousands of lawyers in Tunisia went on strike on Thursday, a week after a police crackdown on demonstrations they staged in support of protesters against unemployment in the tightly controlled country.
Trade unionists said strikes, protests and even attempted suicides also took place in other parts of the country.
In a related development, police arrested a rapper and two bloggers, their families and friends announced, but could not say why or where they were being detained.
The strikes come amid growing unrest following the death of a jobless 26-year-old university graduate who had set himself alight last month in the central town of Sidi Bouzid to protest his lack of opportunities. “Ninety-five percent” of the country’s 8,000 lawyers across the country answered the strike call issued by the national council of their order, Bar president Abderrazak Kilani said.
“No incidents were recorded in the regions, nor in Tunis,” he said. “The lawyers show that they can respond wisely and responsibly.”
In Tunis, lawyers in robes gathered at the main courthouse on Bab Bnet Avenue, where a strong force of police stood guard, but did not intervene.
The national council had called the strike after lawyers across the country staged actions on New Year’s Eve in support of residents of Sidi Bouzid, a center of mass protests against unemployment since Dec. 19.
The council last week condemned the “unprecedented” use of force to “silence the lawyers who are determined to defend freedom of expression and the rights of Sidi Bouzid and other regions that are devoid of jobs and dignity.”
Lawyers were “beaten, chased and insulted” in Tunis, Grombalia, Sousse, Monastir, Mahdia, Gafsa et Jendouba. One lawyer had his nose broken and another had an eye seriously injured, the council said.
Members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) led by Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali opposed the strike.
“This has nothing to do with the Bar’s defense. It is a means to gain political ends” in the context of social unrest, pro-government lawyer Mohsen Harbi said.
Most schools were also on strike on Thursday in Sidi Bouzid, but no clashes were reported in a city still in shock a day after the funeral of Bouaziz, unionist Ali Zari said.
The student, who was reduced to selling vegetables for a living, had tried in vain to plead his cause to the local governor, who was later dismissed by Ben Ali.
Late Wednesday a woman and her three children threatened to take their own lives unless she was given a job and a home. Zari said the new governor met her.
To the south in Jbeniana, near Sfax, police broke up a students’ protest. Trade unionists reported one suicide and several attempts.
In Regueb, also near Sfax, jobless Hamed Slimi, 26, threatened to electrocute himself on a utility pole, denouncing corruption and bias in the jobs market. He was reportedly promised a job following his threat.
In the mining town of Metlaoui, which was already hit by social unrest in 2008, unemployed youth Mosbah Al Jawhari set himself on fire and was rushed to a hospital in Tunis, a resident said on condition of anonymity.
And in central-eastern Chebba, construction worker Mohamed Slimane, a university educated 52-year-old father of four, hanged himself on Tuesday, a witness said.
He reportedly suffered from a kidney ailment and was desperate for medical treatment and food for his family.
Rapper Hamada Ben Amor, 22, better known in Tunisia as “The General,” was arrested at his parents’ home in Sfax at 5:30am, his brother Hamdi said.
He became famous after his song President, Your People Is Dead made it to the Internet, which is being used by thousands of youths for its possibilities to express dissent.
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