Tunisia imposed a nationwide curfew Friday as protests that coincided with the Arab Spring anniversary spread from the nation’s impoverished heartland to the capital, leading to looting and property destruction.
The indefinite curfew, announced by the Interior Ministry and scheduled to take effect at 8 p.m. local time Friday evening, followed five days of protests and rioting in several cities over widespread unemployment.This week’s unrest underscores the difficulties Tunisia has faced in addressing basic economic needs since 2011, when similar protests drove out its longtime autocratic president and triggered demonstrations that ousted long-serving leaders across the Middle East in a movement known as the Arab Spring.
Tunisia been hailed as the movement’s lone political success story, having established an inclusive democracy and avoided the violence that has riven other Arab Spring countries. Egypt, for instance, is now ruled by the former military chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, whose authoritarian government is cracking down on its critics and has warned against protests on this year’s anniversary of the Arab.

But Tunisia has struggled to revive a stagnating economy and rising unemployment. Unemployment has increased to 15%, from 13% before the revolution, with the rate surging to 30% among young people.

The latest protests broke out last Sunday after a young man in the working-class city of Kasserine killed himself, apparently despondent over being rejected from a list of jobs at the Education Ministry.

Police responded to a sit-in at the city council with tear-gas, prompting demonstrations to grow, said Rabii Gharsalli, an activist based in the city.

In its haste to quell the unrest, the government of Prime Minister Habib Essid on Wednesday announced emergency measures, promising 5,000 new jobs in Kasserine and surrounding towns. The following day, the minister of finance said that the announcement had been made in error and that 5,000 unemployed people would be given job training instead.

The reversal infuriated residents, according to Mr. Gharsalli, who said “people felt betrayed.”
The demonstrations spread to neighboring towns and on Thursday to poor districts in the capital, Tunis, where they turned violent and destructive, witnesses and the Interior Ministry said.

One police officer was killed earlier this week in a car accident while responding to rioting and 20 people have been arrested for violence during protests, the ministry said.

For many Tunisians, this round of demonstrations bears a strong resemblance to the 2011 protests, which erupted near Kasserine. The latest unrest is also occurring at a sensitive time for President Beji Caid Essebsi, a career politician who held prominent positions under successive autocratic regimes.

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