Tunisia PM: unrest aims to prevent elections
Tunisia's prime minister on Monday warned against attempts to derail October elections, as a surge in violence fueled fears that the country's democratic revolution was being rolled back.
Against a backdrop of confusion and mounting discontent over the pace of change, Beji Caid Essebsi attempted to reassure the population and outlined his government's roadmap for the next three months.
"There were disturbances aimed at preventing elections," he said during an address to the nation. "These elections will be held on October 23 as scheduled."
He said that "some parties and marginal groups are not ready for the elections", pointing to the "strange" timing of the violent incidents that occurred across the country over the past few days.
A 14-year-old boy was killed by a ricocheting bullet when police opened fire to break up a protest that lasted deep into the night in Sidi Bouzid, the town where Tunisia's uprising erupted in December.
The violence came after weekend attacks on police stations across Tunisia that heightened fears that some forces were bent on destabilising the country and undoing the democratic achievements of the past few months.
The official TAP news agency Monday quoted Sidi Bouzid police chief Samir Al Meliti as saying police opened fire in response to molotov cocktails hurled at them by demonstrators.
"We want to see all political parties condemning these events," the prime minister said.
Two other people were wounded in the clashes, one of them seriously, a local medic said.
"There was major fighting late into the night in Sidi Bouzid and in Regueb," local unionist Ali Zarai said.
Six months after an unprecedented uprising led to the shock ouster of longtime dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, many Tunisians feared that the revolution's achievements were being rolled back.
"The people of Sidi Bouzid are angry. Six months after the revolution, they still haven't seen any change and they are demonstrating against the government of Beji Caid Essebsi," Zarai explained.
Sidi Bouzid is the town where street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17 in protest at police harassment, touching off the uprising that unhinged one of the world's most entrenched dictators.
Demonstrations have continued however with many Tunisians not satisfied that the new government is doing what it takes to give jobs to the country's 700,000 unemployed and to rescue a shrinking economy.
The country's first post-elections polls are to be held on October 23 for a constituent assembly meant to write a new constitution that would pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections.
"There are many parties resorting to double talk and we know who they are," Essebsi said without elaborating.
Arms and ammunition were stolen from a police station attacked over the weekend in Menzel Bourguiba, north of the capital Tunis and Essebsi accused groups of seeking to topple his government.
Following the attack of a police station in a Tunis neighbourhood, police and residents blamed everybody from Islamists to Ben Ali loyalists, as well as drunkards and vandals.
"We're in a transitional period, the state is weak and other forces are taking advantage. Nobody knows where we're going and this climate is prone to manipulation," said Dora Jaafar, a young marketing director.
Like many Tunisians, Radhia Nasraoui sees the growing chaos as a sign that Ben Ali's henchmen are still pulling many strings and creeping back into the country's political life.
"They're still here, we shouldn't be surprised that horrible things are happening in Tunisia," she said.
"The counter-revolutionaries have had time to regroup and they are doing everything they can to sabotage the democratic process.