Protester shot dead in Tunisian riots

A teenage protester was shot dead by police yesterday as rioting continued in Tunisia. 

Demonstrators in Menzel Bouzaiene reportedly set fire to three police cars, a train locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally party and a national guard post.

The interior ministry said police shot "in self-defence" after being attacked with Molotov cocktails. The dead youth was named as Mohamed Ammari, 18.

Menzel Bouzaiene is about 70km south of Sidi Bouzid where there were riots after a young unemployed man set fire to himself last Saturday. On Wednesday, another unemployed man committed suicide in Sidi Bouzid by climbing an electricity pole and touching the wires.

Menzel Bouzaiene is now said to be sealed off, with no one allowed in or out, so it is difficult to be sure exactly what is going on.

Nevertheless, some information is leaking out via the internet. Avideo shows the burning police station (national guard post) and there's a photo purportedly showing a youngster who was tortured in Menzel Bouzaiene. Other information can be found on Twitter (#sidibouzid). The Moor Next Door blog discusses the situation in Tunisia and has a compilation of media coverage since the trouble began.

The big question is what effect – if any – this will have on the police state run by 74-year-old President Ben Ali. It has reacted, predictably enough, with a security clampdown and lots of arrests. On Thursday, the development minister also travelled to Sidi Bouzid and promised a $10m employment programme.

Whether the regime fully appreciates the potential scale of its problem, though, is another matter. In a system where people can't speak freely and fawning to the president is the order of the day, it's very difficult to examine the underlying issues objectively and address them properly.

Sid Bouzid's regional council held a special session on Thursday where it appears to have buried its head in the sand. A statementafterwards said it had ...

" ... extended warm thanks and high consideration to President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali for his commitment to lay the foundations of a comprehensive, fair and balanced development, as well as for the unflinching care he has constantly lavished on regions, as testified to it by the multitude of projects launched for the region’s benefit, the gains and achievements accomplished to hoist it to the rank of an active development pole."

If the disturbances in and around Sidi Bouzid are successfully quelled, the regime may fail to heed the warning signs. It's not a local matter. Fifty-four per cent of Tunisians are under 30 and many of them are well educated but frustrated. Unemployment is officially running at around 13% – which probably means it's actually a good deal higher.

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 25 Dec 2010.