Friday, 30 November 2012 18:08
SILIANA: Thousands of people protested for a fourth straight day on Friday in the central town of Siliana demanding the governor quit, as political instability mounts in Tunisia two years after a revolution.
Tunisia's main trade union UGTT called for a symbolic march a few kilometres (miles) towards Tunis which drew a crowd of several thousand, who took part on foot, in cars and on motorcycles.
As they advanced they chanted, "With our souls and our blood we sacrifice for Siliana."
Protesters from the impoverished town, 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Tunis, told AFP they would continue their agitation until governor Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi steps down, police repression ends and a development programme for the region is put in place.
More than 300 people have been wounded since Tuesday when the protesters first took to the streets of Siliana, sparking clashes with police.
The streets of the town were on Friday littered with stones, charred remains of barricades made from burnt tyres, while residents also set up road blocks on the highway leading to Tunis, according to AFP reporters.
"We will undertake a symbolic march to show the determination of the people against (economic) marginalisation," UGTT secretary general Nejib Sebti told AFP as he urged the crowd to march "quietly and peacefully".
He said a delegation from Sidi Bouzid the birthplace of the revolution that saw the exit of former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and launched Arab Spring uprisings across the region was expected to arrive later Friday.
"We are ready for dialogue but without the presence of the governor," Sebti added. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has refused to sack the governor.
Protesters complained about police violence during the protests since Tuesday.
"This is what the Ennahda (the ruling Islamist party) police did to me," said a man showing injuries to his legs and hips.
Jebali has promised an investigation into the violence, which he said was threatening the country's fledgling democracy as it approaches the second anniversary of the revolution triggered on December 17, 2010.
"We will investigate the possible excessive use of force and the origins of the violence," while demanding accountability from those responsible for "this catastrophe," Jebali said on Thursday.
The demands of protesters could not be achieved in chaos and "we will not accept the ... destruction of democracy," he said, while insisting that he is open to dialogue to address the problems of the region.
On Thursday, security forces fired warning shots and tear gas at hundreds of protesters trying to storm a police station in Siliana a day after more than 250 people were wounded there during clashes with police, AFP journalists reported.
The violence in Siliana comes as clashes, strikes and attacks by Salafists have multiplied across Tunisia, plunging the country into a political impasse.
Much of Tunisia's interior suffers from a chronic lack of development, and has seen growing social unrest in the face of economic stagnation and rising discontent over the government's failure to improve living standards.
Precarious living conditions and widespread unemployment were driving factors behind Ben Ali's overthrow in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that have since swept the region.
Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012