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The New Arab Staff

Riots break out in Tunisian cities amid economic crisis, outrage over police assault video

Violent clashes broke out in the town of Siliana [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 January, 2021

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Riots erupted in several Tunisian cities on Saturday amid a deteriorating economic situation and public outrage over a video showing a shepherd being assaulted by a policeman.
Riots took place in several Tunisian cities on Saturday night amid a deteriorating economic situation and public anger following the release of a video clip showing a police officer insulting and assaulting a shepherd in the northern town of Siliana.

The Tunis Afrique news agency (TAP) reported that in the town of Tebourba, about 30 kilometres west of Tunis, youth and children threw stones at police and blocked roads with burning tyres before security forces dispersed them with tear gas and arrested 16 people.

In the town of Ettadhamen near Tunis, rioters attempted to loot shops and rob banks before security officers dispersed them, according to TAP. The rioters caused a significant amount of damage to local shops.

Read more: A decade on, Tunisia's revolutionary demand for economic justice remains unmet

Riots also broke out in several towns in Sousse province and clashes were also recorded in the northwestern towns of Kef and Tajerouine.

On Thursday, a video was circulated on social media showing Abdul Rahman Al-Othmani, a shepherd in Siliana province, being humiliated and beaten by a police officer after his sheep accidentally entered a government building.

The incident took place on the tenth anniversary of the fall from power of long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and many people compared it to the beating of Mohammed Bouazizi by a policewoman in the town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010.

Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest and his death sparked the demonstrations that led to Ben Ali’s toppling and the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions in other Middle Eastern and North African countries.  

Local authorities later apologised to Al-Othmani and promised to investigate the incident, vowing to look into the economic situation of the young shepherd, whose meagre income is barely enough to support himself, his siblings, and his sick parents.

While Tunisia has been described as a successful democracy, it is currently in the middle of a severe economic crisis, with unemployment at 15 percent among the general population and 30 percent among university graduates.

The country is also on the verge of bankruptcy amid widespread poverty and corruption.

On Saturday Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who has had a tense relationship with President Kais Saied, reshuffled the Tunisian cabinet, appointing 12 new ministers in an effort to deal with the country’s economic crisis and the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

“The next stage is full of challenges, including necessary reforms for the economy, which require increased efficiency and harmony”, Mechichi said.

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