Gunfire was heard in Tunis today as the mobilization of the Tunisian people continued to shake the pillars of the authoritarian regime of Ben Ali - which appears increasingly fragile.
The authorities are intensifying repression of protesters and political activists. For the first time, the army and its armored vehicles also made their appearance in the streets of the capital on Wednesday.
Today, armored units and police security forces have replaced those of the army on Habib Bourguiba Central Avenue and the place Barcelona.
Only two army vehicles with armed soldiers are still stationed on Ibn Khaldun square, opposite the French Embassy.
Military reinforcements were also visible around the home of the radio and the television in the Lafayette area, and others on the square of the Passage.
The movement of protest is nevertheless growing every day among the population all over the country.
The capital Tunis, spared by the riots since the beginning of the crisis witnessed its first clashes on the outskirts of the capital on Tuesday night provoking the death of dozens of protesters, and they were repeated on Wednesday night despite the curfew imposed by the authorities challenged by the protesters, six of whom were killed.
The clashes occurred about 15 km from the center of the capital in the neighbourhoods of Ettadhamen and Intilaka, involving young demonstrators and the security forces, as well as in the district of al-Kerm, north of Tunis.
The Tunisian authorities have actually imposed a night curfew in the capital Tunis for an indefinite period; this is the first time such action has been taken since the takeover of power of President Ben Ali in 1987.
In the western region of Kasserine, the last four days of unrest caused the death of around 50 people according to labor unions and human rights groups, while the government announced only 14 killed.
In Sfax, an economic metropolis 300 km south of Tunis, police gunfire wounded 5 protesters, where a "general strike" was observed, according to a union source.
Several other cities also witnessed clashes between security forces and demonstrators. In the southern city of Douz two civilians were killed by police firing and in Thala, in the center west, one protester was shot dead and two were injured by security forces on Wednesday night, according to a trade unionist.
Hamma Hammami, former editor of the newspaper Alternatives, banned by the authorities, and spokesman of the Tunisian Workers Communist Party (PCOT), was arrested Wednesday morning while he was at his home.
This is the first political leader to be arrested since the beginning of the crisis. He was arrested following a speech published on Facebook calling on the President Ben Ali to resign and he declared as well in an interview with the weekly Italian Left that "The movement is stronger than the regime and may lead to its downfall. We do not know when, but the road is marked”.
In response to the arrest of its leader, the PCOT called the rest of the opposition to form an "interim national government”.
The Chair of the Committee against Torture, Radhia Nasraoui with fellow lawyers were attacked by security forces dressed as civilian on Tuesday during a demonstration against the regime in downtown Tunis, Avenue Bourguiba.
The journalist of Radio Kalima, Nizar Ben Hassen, was also abducted from his home in the town of Cheb on Tuesday by special units of the Presidency of the Republic of Tunisia. He was taken to an unknown location.
Following a month of protests and clashes between the demonstrators and the security forces and increased repression the regime has also tried so called “measures of appeasement”.
The Tunisian President decided yesterday to sack his interior minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem, who was responsible for the police force, in view of appeasing the anger of the population.
The regime by the voice of Mohamed Ghannouchi, the prime minister, also declared on Wednesday that all those arrested in the wave of demonstrations had been released, but gave no figure for how many had been originally detained and until now no confirmation of the veracity of this declaration.
Ghannouchi also said that allegations by opposition and non-government groups into corruption would be investigated by a special commission.
These so called “measures of appeasement” from the authorities are certainly not enough to put an end to the protests or at least weaken them because they have definitely reached another level. It is no longer a social protest around unemployment and high cost of living but clearly a political one.
The Tunisian people are more confident in criticizing and denouncing the current regime, as we can observe through the slogans of the demonstrators calling for the end of Ben Ali’s regime.
The movement of protest has showed the depth and the breadth of the rejection of President Ben Ali and of his regime.
There is no turning back for many protesters, a student actually declaring that “the power of Ben Ali has been shaken, it is not the time to stop”, while another student said that she does not feel anymore as a citizen in her own country, in her opinion Ben Ali must go and this is the only solution.
Promises such as the creation of 300 000 jobs or "measures of appeasement" from the regime such as sacking a minister, as well as threats and repression are no longer accepted.
In 1984, during the “bread revolt”, Habib Bourguiba had finally withdrawn the decision to increase the price of bread and the movement had stopped. Today, despite Ben Ali’s speeches on the 28th of December and on the 10th of January attempting to ease the protest, the movement grew and the protests increased.
Some opposition sources have reported the sacking of the Army Chief of Staff, General Rashid Ammar. He reportedly refused to order the soldiers to quell the riots and expressed reservations about excessive use of force, the sources said. He was replaced by the military intelligence chief Ahmed Chbir, according to some information which could not be confirmed officially.
People want change and this movement of protest is in many ways a reminder to Ben Ali’s words on Radio Tunis when he dismissed Habib Bourguiba of the Presidency and took over the power in November 1987: “The times we are living can no longer tolerate either presidency for life nor automatic succession as head of state, where the people are excluded”.
These words should now be resonating and echoing very strongly in the ears of President Ben Ali because the people of Tunisia are in the streets and they are here to stay.
They will not accept anymore the brutality, the corruption, and the absence of total democracy and social justice of this regime.
Ben Ali and his counterparts have now two options: take the path towards democracy and social justice or stay in power by a large and long repression and bloodbath against the people.
Tunisian workers are now entering the line of battle and this will determine the character of the uprising. A revolution is opening up - the workers have the chance to shape its social character.
Stop Government repression in Tunisia, Solidarity with the uprising
2.30pm, Tunisian Embassy, 29 Princes Gate
London SW7 1QG
Speakers include Jeremy Corbyn and Mohammed Ali.
Miriyam Aouragh (Oxford University, author Palestine Online)
Mohamed Ali (Islam Channel, former political prisoner in Tunisia)
Joseph Daher (Counterfire)
Date: Thursday 20th January
Place: Room 3C, University of London Union, Malet Street, London WC1 (nearest tubes, Euston, Euston Square, Russell Square)
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