Tunisia strikes to cover more cities

Ahram Online, Monday 27 Dec 2010

For the tenth day, Tunisian youth and activists continue striking against unemployment in several cities

Tunisia protesters clashed with the security forces (AFP)

Peaceful strikes over unemployment and other social demands spread in Tunisia on Monday to cover new cities including Safakes, Kairouan, Sousse and Mednin.

The new wave of strikes first erupted on December 17 in Sidi Bou Zid city, and came after the labour unions in the capital Tunis City announced that they will organize a peaceful march on Monday to urge the government to improve its performance in the fields of development and employment.

Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of people participated in demonstrations in Safakes and Kairouan in solidarity with the youth in Sidi Bou Zid that were attacked by security forces.

Other labour union demonstrations also took place in front of the local authority for employment at Mednin, with hundreds of protesters carrying banners reading "We need work" and "Shame on the government".  

Activists have been networking with each other over Internet social networks like Facebook and Twitter to expand the strike to cover new cities.

Government officials, however, confronted the mass demonstrations in the cities on Friday when security forces opened fire on protesters leaving one person dead.

In Kairouan city, 150 km south of Tunis City, riot police clashed with protesters on Sunday night leaving an unknown number of protesters injured and transferred to hospitals. 

Tensions rose in Sidi Bou Zid city, in west-central Tunisia, since the December 17 attempted suicide of 26-year-old university graduate Mohammed Bouazizion, who was forced to scratch out a living peddling fruit and vegetables because he could not find a job. When police confiscated his products because he did not have the necessary permit he doused himself in petrol and set himself ablaze.

The incident prompted violent riots in which protestors burned tires and chanted slogans demanding jobs.

The government claimed that the violence was contained, adding that it had been exploited by the opposition.

But tensions were heightened on December 22 when another young man from Sidi Bou Zid, climbed up an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed.

On Friday, Mohamed Ammari, a teenager, was killed when police in Sidi Bouzid opened fire on protesters.

An interior ministry spokesperson said police had been forced to "shoot in self-defense" after shots fired into the air failed to disperse scores of protesters who were setting police cars and buildings ablaze.

The Tunisian government has been trying to manage the crisis politically before using force and the Tunisian development minister travelled to Sidi Bou Zid on Thursday to announce a new $10m employment program.

Unemployment in Tunisia, especially among university graduates, has been a persistent problem. Official figures show that 14% of Tunisia's workforce is idle. But analysts say the real figure is much higher.

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