Tunisia Imposes Curfew Amid Growing Unrest

Tunisia Imposes Curfew Amid Growing UnrestTunisia Imposes Curfew Amid Growing Unrest

Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi vowed on Friday to end the cycle of unrest that has pummeled towns across the country as authorities imposed a nationwide curfew-five years after the nation, convulsed by protests, overthrew its longtime ruler and moved onto the road to democracy.

President Essebsi warned that Tunisia could fall prey to militants in neighboring Libya profiting from the instability.

The violent demonstrations over unemployment opened a new front of concern for Tunisia, already struggling from a foundering economy and the threat of terrorism after three major attacks last year, AP reported.

The week of increasingly violent demonstrations was triggered on Sunday when a young man who was turned down for a government job climbed a transmission tower in protest and was electrocuted.

His death had unsettling resonance: The suicide five years ago of another unemployed youth set off the popular uprising that overthrew Tunisia’s autocratic leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and gave rise to the “Arab Spring” uprisings.

This North African country has been the only Arab Spring nation to avoid a chaotic aftermath and take the road to democracy.

“We will get out of this ordeal,” the president said in his first address to the nation since the crisis erupted. He pressed the government to put in place a program to address unemployment. About one in three young people remains without work.

“One cannot speak of dignity without a job,” he said. “You can’t tell people who are hungry ... to be patient.”

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid cut short a visit to France to preside over an extraordinary Cabinet meeting on Saturday.

A curfew from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. was declared because the attacks on public and private property “represent a danger to the country and its citizens”, the Interior Ministry said.

Weekend sports events were canceled. A tense calm reigned.

The unrest began on Sunday in the town of Kasserine in central Tunisia where the young man electrocuted himself - not far from the town of Sidi Bouzid where a vegetable seller set himself afire in 2011, triggering Tunisia’s revolution.

Tunisia’s unemployment stands around 15%, but is 30% among youth and in the Tunisian heartland that has long felt ignored by the powers-that-be in the capital, despite government promises of change.

On Friday, hundreds of unemployed graduates filed into Kasserine’s main administrative office demanding jobs. Others screamed from the top of the building before being escorted out by police and still more held a sit-in inside the lobby.

“We want work, nothing less, nothing more,” said one of the unemployed youths, Rafik Nasri. “You see all these people are unemployed, the well-read, the intellectual, the non-intellectual, the peasant or not, they’re all demanding work.”

The overnight curfew was imposed after the violence in Kasserine, about 300 kilometers southwest of Tunis, began spreading to other towns this week. On Friday, roving groups pillaged a bank and looted stores and a warehouse in the working class neighborhood of Ettadhamen outside the capital. Security forces arrested 16 people.

Security forces used tear gas to repel the protesters attacking police stations and other official buildings with stones and Molotov cocktails. A day earlier, a police officer was killed after protesters in the town of Feriana, near Kasserine, flipped over his car, the government said.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since a suicide bombing in November killed 12 members of the presidential guard in the heart of Tunis—an attack that capped an unusually violent year for the country.

That bombing, along with deadly attacks against the Bardo Museum in Tunis and the resort of Sousse, were claimed by the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

“Daesh, which is present in Libya at our borders, finds that the moment is opportune to act in Tunisia,” the president said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

France promised aid worth €1 billion, much of it dedicated to inland regions far from the capital and coastal areas like Sousse, a tourist magnate on the Mediterranean. But tourism, a key element of Tunisia’s economy, plummeted after last year’s attacks, aggravating unemployment.

“It has been five years since the revolution,” said Marouane M’daini, a college graduate from Kasserine who is among a quarter-million Tunisian young people who are educated but unemployed.

“I’d love to work, that’s all I think about. It’s exhausting,” he said.