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Unrest spreads in Tunisia over poverty and unemployment

UNREST is continuing to spread in Tunisia, which has been hit by a series of strikes and protests over high levels of unemployment and increased levels of poverty.

One of the most affected areas is the southern city of Tataouine. which has seen a heavy-handed police response to demonstrations, with activists responding by hurling stones and blocking roads.

Clashes there have gone on for three days as the country struggles to deliver promises made after a revolution toppled the dictatorship of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali nearly 10 years ago.

Tataouine resident Ismail Smida said: “The situation is dangerous in our area. From the window of my home I see police forces randomly launching [tear] gas and chasing young men.”

Protesters are pressing the government to implement a deal struck in 2017 to create jobs in oil companies and invest in projects to reduce unemployment, which is running at 30 per cent, one of the highest rates in the country.

They are also demanding the release of Tarek Haddad, a leader of the protest movement, who was detained over the weekend.

Tataouine governor Adel Werghi said that Mr Haddad was “wanted” by authorities — but failed to give any details of the case against him.

A general strike was called by the UGTT trade-union confederation on Monday in protest at the use of “excessive and unjustified force” against protesters. Many public institutions were shut by the action.

Last week thousands of nurses and other health workers took part in a 24-hour stoppage in Tunisia’s public hospitals. Strikers gathered in front of the health ministry in Tunis with placards reading “public health is a national asset.”

They are demanding a new law regulating their status and the right to be paid overtime, with many working long hours on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

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