Tunisia’s government and main trade union reached a deal on Saturday aimed at satisfying demands by demonstrators in the impoverished governorate of Siliana angry over poor living conditions.
One of the demands was for the resignation of regional Governor Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi. The deal envisages sidelining, but not removing him, and putting his deputy in charge.
“The deputy of the governorate is charged with managing the governorate while awaiting the appropriate decisions by the authorities,” Mohamed Ben Salem, the minister of agriculture and government representative in the negotiations, told reporters in the capital.
“The two parties have agreed to work together to calm the situation,” he said, adding that steps would be taken to ensure the economic development of the region, another of the protesters main grievances.
“It’s a positive step, pending concrete decisions,” said Belgacem Ayari, the deputy general of the UGTT union, which is organizing the protests.
But Ayari insisted on the need to order the withdrawal of police reinforcements in Siliana, which he blamed for the violence that has rocked the town since Tuesday.
“They provoked the residents,” he said.
The town, 120 kilometers (70 miles) southwest of Tunis, has been the epicenter of protests and clashes between the police and protesters this week, nearly two years after the revolution.
Tunisian security forces fired tear gas and live rounds into the air on Saturday to try to disperse thousands of protesters in a town that has seen days of clashes over economic hardship.
National guard forces belonging to the Interior Ministry fired tear gas and rounds from inside armoured personnel carriers in the town of Siliana, southwest of Tunis.
"Get out, get out!", "With our blood and soul we sacrifice ourselves for you, Siliana" and "Siliana will be the graveyard of the Ennahda party" the protesters, who numbered about 3,000, chanted while throwing stones at security forces.
Police chased protesters down streets.
The Islamist Ennahda party that won Tunisia's first post-Arab Spring election last year is struggling to revive the economy of the north African state due to lower trade with the crisis-hit euro zone.
Residents are also demanding financial aid and an end to police aggression, similar grievances behind the mass uprising that toppled former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 and touched off the Arab Spring.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki asked the country’s prime minister on Friday to appoint a new cabinet in response to the violent protests over economic hardship.
At least 300 people were wounded this week after clashes ignited between protesters and police in the northwest town of Siliana, leaving about 17 protesters blinded by birdshot, medical sources told Reuters.
Up to 10,000 people marched Friday to demand more jobs, government investment and the resignation of the local governor, but the peaceful protest degenerated into clashes with police. Still, the confrontation was far less serious than a day earlier, when the army was brought in briefly to quell protests.
U.N. human rights officials said the security forces used excessive force to quell the protests, in some of their harshest criticism of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's government since it took office in October last year.
For many Tunisians, the clashes recalled harsh policing under Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the veteran autocrat brought down in the first Arab Spring uprising in January 2011.
"The government must be changed to have a competent technocrat cabinet and not a party political one," Marzouki, a secularist, said in an address carried on state television. "If the clashes continue and the government's response is not adequate, there will be chaos and a dead-end."
Jebali, who hails from Tunisia's biggest Islamist movement Ennahda, has rejected calls for his resignation and accused leftists of sowing disorder.
Marzouki's demand for a reshuffle raises the pressure on Jebali from his political opponents but he is not obliged under the constitution to obey the call.