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The New Arab Staff

Weeks-long civil unrest continues in southern Tunisia as economy plummets

The crowds demanding for the release of two trade unionists arrested by authorities. [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 June, 2020

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Thousands of protesters have been gathering in Tunisia's Sfax city for weeks to demand the release of two trade union leaders that were detained on April 6th.
Outraged by the arrests of two trade unionists, thousands of protesters gathered in the southern city of Sfax in Tunisia on Sunday, the latest in weeks of unrest over the country’s financial downturn.

Some 7,000 protesters gathered after calls by Tunisia’s General Labour Union, the largest since similar protests in 2013, according to local news outlet Tunisie Numerique.

"We want a just and fair judiciary far from political bargains," said Noureddine Taboubi, chairman of the General Labour Union, according to news agency Anadolu.

Protesters also demanded the government honour an agreement which was reached after a months-long sit-in three years ago, pledging to hire thousands of unemployed workers and invest millions in the region's development.

Unrest has characterised this part of the country since the arrest of the two trade unionists on April 6th, to which workers have responded by striking and clashing with police.

Last week "several hundred people" gathered in front of a local security forces facility in Douz, 475 kilometres (295 miles) south of the capital Tunis, to protest disrupted water supplies, ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni told AFP.

Protesters burned tyres and threw rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas, Hayouni said.

Local private radio station Mosaique FM reported that officers were injured and patrol cars damaged.

The southern part of the country is suffering from a dire lack of financial opportunity, as Tunisia battles with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh spoke on a possible collapse of the country's economy, warning of a dangerous rise in unemployment.

"All state enterprises are in bankruptcy," he declared in a speech to parliament.

"The next battle is to save the state."

He said GDP this year would fare worse "even than during the 2011 revolution" which toppled dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, when the economy contracted by 1.9 percent year-on-year, according to World Bank data.

The union has since announced it will continue to organise protests and rallies at regional and national levels in order to continue its battle for workers rights and a respect on the part of the Tunisian authorities of collective union action.

Deputy Secretary General Sami Tahri also announced the union intends to file a complaint with the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation concerning the violation of their right to organise in Tunisia as well as the violent response to these actions by authorities.

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