Tunisia: Protesters Against Ruling Islamist Party…

SILIANA: Angry protesters clashed with police yesterday and torched an office of Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party, as rising discontent and political deadlock prompted people to go on strike in three parts of the country.

In Siliana, southwest of Tunis, hundreds of residents gathered outside the governor’s office to remember more than 300 people injured one year ago, when demonstrations exploded into days of running clashes between police and protesters.

Violence broke out when dozens of them hurled rocks at the police, who responded by throwing rocks back and driving into the crowd to disperse them.

The protesters then headed towards the national guard headquarters where they continued to throw stones, as the police tried to keep them away by firing tear gas.

In the poor central region of Gafsa, hundreds of people attacked the Ennahda party headquarters after trying to break into the governor’s office, and police fired tear gas to scatter the crowd.

The protesters seized files and furniture from the office and burned them in the road, while preventing firemen from gaining access to the building.

“The people want the fall of the regime” and “The people of Gafsa are a free people” were among the slogans chanted. Siliana, Gafsa and the eastern Gabes region ground to a halt yesterday in a general strike called to protest against poverty and lack of development.

Those were driving factors behind the popular uprising nearly three years ago that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. They continue to plague much of Tunisia, whose sluggish economic recovery has failed to create jobs or spur regional development.

A number of similar protests have resulted in regional offices of Ennahda being attacked in recent months.

Gafsa is strategic because of its phosphate mines, but remains among the poorest areas in Tunisia despite its natural wealth. It witnessed anti-government protests in 2008, under Ben Ali, that were savagely repressed.

Since the revolution, phosphate production has slumped because of disruptions caused by strikes and protests, and despite thousands of people being hired in the state-run sector as part of government efforts to defuse social tensions.

The catalyst for yesterday’s industrial action in Gafsa and Gabes was a government decision not to include them in the list of regions where five new university-linked hospitals are to be built. AFP

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