Daytime protests in recent days have been followed by nighttime violence, with restrictions from COVID-19 exacerbating wider economic malaise.
Tunisians protest the detention of hundreds of young demonstrators arrested during several nights of unrest, demanding their release and expressing anger at the government’s handling of a worsening social crisis.
Around 100 people gathered in the capital, Tunis, and the city of Sousse on Wednesday, in defiance of gatherings banned following a recent outbreak of coronavirus cases.
“We want the detainees to be released,” shouted protesters in Sousse.
In Tunis, demonstrators – many of them students – shouted slogans of the 2011 revolution in the country, including “freedom, work, national dignity”, as they moved along the Habib Bourguiba thoroughfare from the capital.
Day protests in recent days, demands for jobs, dignity and the release of detainees have been followed by nighttime violence, with COVID-19 restrictions exacerbating wider economic malaise.
The protests come as the economy is in freefall, youth unemployment skyrockets and anger mounts against a political class that has shown itself unable to rally for the nation – blames with heightened focus so that the country marked last week the 10 years since former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi acknowledged the “legitimate” anger of Tunisians in a televised speech but said the violence was “unacceptable” and pledged to “meet it by force of law”.
“Your voice is heard and your anger is legitimate… don’t allow the saboteurs among you,” he said, addressing the protesters.
Hundreds of people have been arrested since the nightly clashes erupted late last week amid a four-day lockdown.
Tunisia often sees protests around these key anniversaries in January, but this year’s clashes come as the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated socio-economic problems.
Much of the unrest has hit the working class neighborhoods.
Clashes also took place in Kasserine, Kairouan and Kef, according to National Guard spokesman Houssemeddine Jebabli, who said 41 other people were arrested.
The Interior Ministry said on Monday that more than 600 people had been arrested.