A protest in the northwest Tunisian city of Kef turned violent on Thursday, leaving 15 injured, as a strong police cordon in Tunis held another demonstration by unemployed university graduates at bay.
Police fired teargas to disperse a protest by hundreds of residents of Kef when demonstrators tried to storm the local government headquarters, chanting “no to exclusion, marginalisation and contempt,” public broadcaster, Radio Kef reported.
The protesters, who in turn threw stones at police, complain their region is not receiving its fair share of public spending and accuse governor Abdelkader Trabelsi of failing to protect his constituents’ interests.
Demonstrators are demanding more jobs, infrastructure spending and a university hospital, according to information posted on Tunisian websites.
“There are some injuries, people who fainted because of the teargas, and there are clashes between police and youths who are throwing stones,” a protester named Hichem told AFP on the phone.
Fifteen people were injured, one of them badly, said a hospital source. Kef, a city of some 50,000 people, is about 175 kilometres west of Tunis and is the capital of the region of the same name. Kef was one of the regions often neglected under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in January 2011 in the protests that touched off the Arab Spring.
In a separate protest, about 100 unemployed people with university degrees demonstrated on Thursday outside the Kasbah government building in Tunis, chanting “work, freedom and dignity.” Kept away from the building by a strong police cordon, the protesters also shouted slogans from the Tunisian revolution and threatened to hold a sit-in.
“This government has taken no steps to deal with the problem of providing employment,” an official with the Union of Unemployed Graduates, Belgacem Ben Abdallah, told AFP, accusing the authorities of “corruption and nepotism”.
The Islamist party Ennahda, which has come to power in the north African country since Ben Ali’s ouster, “distributes jobs to its followers,” UDC coordinator Salem Ayari said.
“The Ben Ali regime fell because of unemployment. But the curse is still there and even worse than before,” Ayari added.
The UDC has called for the swift and transparent opening of recruitment exams into public service and for the establishment of an unemployment benefit at a fixed rate. The government has announced a programme to employ 25,000 in 2012. The unemployment rate is almost 19 percent in Tunisia, compared with 14 per cent in 2010, and university graduates account for 250,000 of the 750,000 job-seekers in the country.
When graduates held a protest on Bourguiba Avenue, one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, on April 7, they were violently dispersed by police and several people were injured. Demonstrations on Bourguiba Avenue were banned at the time.