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Tunisia: Police Use Tear Gas and Batons to Disperse Jobless Protesters

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.

On April 7, 2012 the Union for Unemployed Graduates staged a protest in downtown Tunis. When the protesters attempted to break a ban on demonstrating on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the capital's main avenue, police used tear gas and batons to disperse them. A number of injuries were recorded.

In a communiqué released on April 7 the Interior Ministry said that protesters threw rocks at the police, and that they tried to get to the avenue “by force”.

Injured protester. Image from ‏Albadil.org

The following YouTube video by TunisiaTalks features the police intervention. The video shows passers-by getting suffocated by tear gas, and some injured protesters.

Déjà vu?

Police using batons to disperse protesters. Image by Ali Garboussi.

The police violence reminded Sameh of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali era. She tweeted:

@sameh_b: #Tunisie dictature en marche… Av. Habib Bourguiba!!! Des milices avec des bâtons qui tabassent les manifestants!! Un air de déjà-vu!!!

Tunisia dictatorship is on…Habib Bourguiba Avenue!!! Militias with batons are beating protesters!! An atmosphere of déjà vu!!

She was not the only one who felt that way. Zarzouki tweeted:

@ja3far2012: Raisons bidon “pr proteger les commercants et ne pas gener la circulation” le meme language que ZABA #tunisie

Trivial reasons “to protect merchants, and to avoid blocking traffic movement” – same language used by ZABA [nickname of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali]

Oppression a solution for unemployment?

An injured protester. Image by Ali Garboussi.

“Employment, freedom, and national dignity”, was a slogan used during the 2011 Tunisia uprising. Fifteen months after the end of the 23-year rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, employment is still a key popular demand. Despite the promises of the interim government, led by the Islamist party Ennahdha, to create 400 000 jobs, the uneployment rate is not decreasing. According to a recent study, published at the end of February 2012, the unemployment rate has now reached 18,9 %.

Blogger Bassem Bouguerra published a post entitled the Tunisian way to face unemployment, and argued that the government resorted to oppression to solve the problem of unemployment:

Desperate and angry, 400 unemployed graduates took the streets on April 7th to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s performance towards solving the unemployment issue. They decided on starting their protest from the Tunisian General Labour Union UGTT’s HQ and make it all the way to Avenue Habib Bourguiba [...] The government parallelised with this overwhelming challenge of unemployment, can’t face the protesters with new more promises. Tunisians had enough of that. They also can’t sooth them with solutions since they got none. So they chose the easy solution: Oppression. As the protesters walked towards Habib Bourguiba ave, the police used the familiar tactics of Ben Ali’s era, to oppress and disperse the crowd.

An assault on the dignity of the unemployed

In a blogpost [Fr] published on April 8, Salah Ben Omrane argued that assaulting an unemployed person is assaulting his or her dignity:

taper sur quelqu’un qui ne demande qu’un emploi, c’est s’attaquer à sa dignité! Aucune raison ministérielle ne peut le justifier et aucune morale ne l’approuve .

beating someone who is only asking for a job, is assaulting his or her dignity! No ministerial reason would ever justify it, and no morality would ever approve it

The unemployed: a real threat?

Before the famous slogan of “Ben Ali Get Out”, protesters shouted “Employment is a right, you gang of thieves [the Ben Ali clan]“, and “Employment, freedom, and national dignity”. Unemployment was at the heart of the 2011 Tunisia uprising, which was ignited by the jobless youth, who were the first to take to the streets and face police brutality. Are the unemployed still a threat? Do they represent a danger to the current interim government, appointed four months ago?

According to Zarzouki:

@ja3far2012: Simple: Ils ne repriment que ceux qu'ils trouvent dangeureux!

It is simple: they only repress those they consider to be dangerous!

This post is part of our special coverage Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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