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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 January 2019

Second night of unrest in Tunisia protests

Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators overnight

People clash with security forces following protests in Kasserine, 300km southwest of Tunis, Tunisia. EPA/STR
People clash with security forces following protests in Kasserine, 300km southwest of Tunis, Tunisia. EPA/STR

Clashes between protesters and security forces in an impoverished Tunisian city where a journalist burned himself to death over economic conditions spread to two other towns overnight, authorities said Wednesday.

The western city of Kasserine witnessed a second night of unrest after protests erupted on Monday.

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 he set himself on fire in Kasserine.

In a video published shortly before his death, Zorgui expressed frustration at unemployment and the unfulfilled promises of Tunisia's 2011 unrest.

"For the sons of Kasserine who have no means of subsistence, today I start a revolution. I am going to set myself on fire," Zorgui said .

Zorgui's actions prompted a protest on Monday night in Kasserine that degenerated into violence, with police firing tear gas to disperse protesters who blocked roads and threw stones at police. Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiane Zaag said on Tuesday that six police officers were injured and several people arrested in the protest.

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.

A similar self-immolation by Mohamed Bouazizi – a street vendor lamenting unemployment, corruption and repression – led to nationwide protests fueled by social media that brought down Tunisia's long-time authoritarian president in 2011.

Kasserine was one of the first cities to rise up after Bouazizi's death in 2011, in protests that saw police kill demonstrators. Unrest spread across the country and led to the overthrow of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, while the momentum sparked similar movements around the world world.

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

Zorgui's funeral was being held Tuesday in Kasserine, a beleaguered town that has come to symbolize Tunisia's economic problems and social tensions. Unemployment and poverty are high, and the area has struggled for years against extremists in the nearby mountains who are linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

The Tunisian National Journalists' Union called for demonstrations and a possible strike in response to the journalist's death. In a statement, it accused the state of contributing to Zorgui's death by not cracking down on corruption and called for a general strike on January 14 to mark the eighth anniversary of the revolution.

Tunisian reporters expressed solidarity with Zorgui, lamenting precarious conditions for freelancers with no legal protections and low pay amid Tunisia's struggling economy.

"The reasons for this young man's suicide are poverty and marginalization, as well as the fragile situation of most journalists," said Latifa Labiadh of radio station Amal.

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Updated: December 26, 2018 07:22 PM

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