Tunisia, Jan 20 (efe-epa).- Tunisian security forces on Tuesday arrested 432 people across the country after the fifth consecutive night of clashes between youth protesters and police amid a political crisis and anti-coronavirus restrictions that are stifling the economy.
In Ettadhamen, one of the capital’s most populated and marginalized neighborhoods, young people put up barricades and threw stones at the police and the National Guards, who fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.
As a 10-hour curfew began at 8 pm, Prime Minister Hichem Michichi delivered a speech to the nation, in a bid to ease the protests.
“I understand the protesters and their desire to express themselves, but nothing justifies not respecting the nocturnal curfew or the degradation of the public and private properties,” he said.
Most of those arrested over the past few days are aged between 14 and 17 years, according to the interior ministry.
Over the past few days, some people took advantage of the nocturnal clashes to loot supermarkets.
During a Parliament session held on Wednesday, Defense Minister Brahim Bartagi revealed the arrest of extremists who infiltrated the protesters carrying knives and Molotov cocktails.
Several human rights organizations, which accuse the security forces of use of excessive force, announced the creation of a committee to provide the detainees with legal support, as well as an online platform to collect testimonies of alleged police abuse.
The use of violence by young people is an attempt to provoke a debate between the political class and society and to prove their “existence”, Alaa Talbi, director of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights NGO, told Efe.
Nearly a million teenagers have dropped out of school since 2011 and the lack of employment prospects have played a role, he added.
“These young people do not have slogans, it is not a form of protest, but many use chants from ultras football fans. They no longer have space to express their frustration since the closure of the stadiums (…) and now the closure of the cafes where they met every day to vent,” he explained.
In October, the authorities imposed a curfew, which has been modified on several occasions, and severe travel restrictions in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus that has infected 184,000 people.
On Tuesday, Tunisia reported a record of 94 coronavirus-related deaths, for a total of 5,844.
On 14 January, the government imposed a controversial four-day lockdown, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the uprising that ousted dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the so-called Arab Spring.
On Wednesday, Parliament is expected to set a date to hold a vote of confidence of the current government, following a cabinet reshuffle a few days ago.
Some of the new ministers – all men and mostly close collaborators of Mechichi – have been accused of corruption and several parliamentary blocs have said that they will not support the changes. EFE-EPA