TUNIS, 20 January 2021 – Officials in Tunisia appealed Wednesday for an end to violence, looting and vandalism that on Tuesday marred a fifth night of street protests in the capital, Tunis.
The protests started Friday, the tenth anniversary of the ousting of Tunisia’s long-serving President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali.
They are organized in breach of a national lockdown (instituted last Monday) and a nighttime curfew put in place since October 2020 in hopes of stemming the spread of the new coronavirus.
An estimated 700 protesters, mostly teenagers, have been arrested for their alleged role in acts of violence, vandalism and looting.
Human rights organizations have denounced Tunisian police for using what they consider excessive force in clearing streets of the rioters.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mechichi sacked his interior minister Taoufik Charfeddine who is very close to President Kais Saied.
The firing has renewed fears that the Tunisian governing alliance could collapse, delaying meaningful action on getting this latest control under control.
Mechichi has said he will assume the position of interior minister in addition to his role as prime minister.
The protests have been fuelled by social and economic hardships, notably high unemployment among young Tunisians, which the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has recognized.
“Your voices are heard, your anger is legitimate, and my role and the government’s role is to work on realising your demands,” Mechichi told protesters in a televised address.
The primie minister said the “crisis is real” but insisted “we reject chaos and will confront that with the power of the law”.
Health officials have ncouraged the protest organizers to do a better job of ensuring that they respect social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines.