Calm returns to cradle of Arab Spring in Tunisia
SIDI BOUZID (Tunisia) - Calm returned Saturday to the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, after an overnight curfew imposed because of violent post-election protests.
The unrest appeared to have been sparked by the disqualification over campaign finance violations of a party led by a former member of the regime ousted in January by Tunisia's pro-democracy revolution.
The riots had threatened to tarnish the country's first ‘free’ elections, which won praise from world leaders keenly watching developments in a country setting the pace for democratic uprisings across the Arab world.
"There were no incidents during the night," a police official said.
The town's weekly market was open, and residents were going about normal activities as teams worked to clean and repair public buildings that were vandalised during two days of unrest.
A few tanks remained stationed by the police headquarters and town hall, however, and schools remained closed.
Late Friday, Hechmi Haamadi, a businessman whose Popular Petition won in Sidi Bouzid, appealed to the town's residents to halt the protests, echoing an appeal by the head of the Islamist Ennahda party which won Sunday's polls.
Tension had remained high late Friday despite the curfew, as disgruntled groups were threatening further damage and the army boosted patrols in the town, a correspondent reported.
An interior ministry spokesman said Saturday that the curfew, which was in effect from 7:00 pm Friday to 5:00 am (0400 GMT) on Saturday, would be maintained as a precautionary measure.
"Calm in Sidi Bouzid has to be sustained and we are maintaining this measure until further notice," he said, adding that no injuries were reported during the protests.
Several newspapers accused some players still loyal to ousted leader Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of stoking unrest by tapping into popular discontent in Sidi Bouzid, a particularly impoverished town.
It was in Sidi Bouzid that fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, set himself on fire on December 17 last year to protest abuses under Ben Ali's 23-year-old regime.
He died days later, but Bouazizi's desperate act sparked the popular revolt that toppled Ben Ali less than a month later and ignited region-wide uprisings that have since toppled long-standing leaders in Cairo and Tripoli.
The October 23 election saw a massive turnout and confirmed the dominance of pre-poll frontrunners Ennahda, despite efforts by secular parties to counter the rise of the Islamist party.
Results show that Ennahda took 90 of the 217 seats in the constituent assembly, a body which is seen as the custodian of the revolution and will be tasked with forming an interim government and writing a new constitution.
Some rioters targeted Ennahda's party offices in Sidi Bouzid.
Analysts have said that Ennahda, even in a majority alliance, would be unable to "dictate" any programme to the assembly, and would be obliged to appease coalition partners, a moderate-minded society, and the international community on whose investment and tourism the country relies heavily.