|"President" Ben Ali by LibCom|
Tunisian protests hit the capital today as troops in tanks swarmed downtown streets and snipers lined rooftops with orders to shoot to kill. Protests began three weeks ago in response to the death of a young unemployed man, Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire to protest police confiscation of the produce he was selling on the streets. He was unemployed and reduced to illegally selling produce to make ends meet. This exacerbated tensions that were already simmering over rising unemployment and poverty and government corruption.
At least 21 people had already died at the hands of the police as of yesterday and another young Tunisian, Allaa Hidouri, electrocuted himself in protest. However, reports are coming in that dozens of protesters were slaughtered by police in the city of Kaserine yesterday. Medical personnel in Kasserine launched a one-hour strike in protest.
Tunisian police have been arresting opposition figures in their homes. Many protesters have been arrested, beaten and tortured. A rapper and several prominent bloggers have been arrested or disappeared. Authorities have banned soccer games and shut down all universities and high schools indefinitely. They are particularly terrified of restive youth, whose unemployment rate is at 30%. However, unions and lawyers have joined the demonstrations, with 95% of all lawyers participating.
Protests also occurred in central and western Tunisia and were spreading toward the coastal resort towns. Workers have called for a general strike in Sfax, the nation’s second largest city. Water cannons were used against protesters in the western town of Thala.
According to the World Affairs blog, the regime of President Ben Ali is one of the most repressive in the world, rivaling China in censorship. According to Reporters Without Borders, Tunisia is ranked 164 out of 178 for press freedom. Much of what has come out of Tunisia has made it out through blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The ruling elite have blamed outsiders and provocateurs and are warning of a spillover into neighboring Arab countries. Algeria has already seen bloody protests over skyrocketing food prices. While most countries in the region have kept their oppositions suppressed through brute force up until now, the fearlessness and momentum of the Tunisian protest is forcing their leaders to confront their own vulnerability.