Street Cleanup in Kasserine on Friday as Relative Calm Returns | Source: Twitter

Cleanup in Kasserine, “Security Situation Improving” Nationwide

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Kasserine and Tunisia awoke to a relative calm after the first night of a nationwide  8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, after nearly a week of protests following the death of  Ridha Yahyaoui, an unemployed young man from Kasserine.  Protests began Sunday and throughout the week steadily increased protests.  The majority of protests over unemployment, corruption and the lackluster results of economic reforms began peacefully with crowds reviving the Revolutionary chant of “Work, Freedom, Dignity”  five years after the 2011 revolution.  However as protests intensified and spread throughout Tunisia some turned violent culminating in the death of a police officer in the outskirts of Kasserine on Wednesday

The reported that throughout Tunisia 123 individuals had been arrested for curfew violations and 18 security agents had been injured during the night of Friday-Saturday January 22-23.  Interior Ministry spokesman Walid Louguini told local radio ShemsFM that 261 individuals had been arrested throughout the day on Friday, Louguini added that the ‘security situation was improving’.

Throughout the week injuries numbered in the hundreds as some protests turned into clashes between protesters and security forces including army units and several incidences of rioting and looting.  On Wednesday police officer Sofiène Bousslimi, 25, was killed when assaulted by protesters near Kasserine after his police car was overturned.

Throughout the week most of the clashes with security forces occurred after protesters refused to disperse, attempted to occupy government buildings, interrupted rail traffic through sit-ins, and burned tires on roadways.  However, there were also incidences of rioting and looting which targeted private property, although these property related incidents occurred mostly in and around Tunis, well away from the impoverished interior where the protests began and maintained their focus on government.

In stark contrast to Tunis, there were no reports of looting or theft in Kasserine where the protests began, the regional security chief for Kasserine told local radio MosaiqueFM.  In an interview in which he thanked local youths for a cleanup effort on Friday.

It was the first time a nationwide curfew had been imposed since the 2011 Tunisian Revolution.  Although localized curfews have been imposed, including one applied to Tunis and surrounding governorates in the weeks which followed the November suicide bombing which kill twelve members of the presidential guard).

President Beji Caid Essebsi made a nationally televised address Friday evening, calling for time and patience as attempted to implement its policies in a difficult economic situation.  On Saturday Essebsi met the family of Ridha Yahyaoui at the Presidential Palace in Carthage to offer his condolences.

Prime Minister Habib Essid cut short his trip to the World Economic Forum at Davos and returned to Tunis where he held an emergency cabinet session on Saturday.  On the way home, Essid visited French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace where the French Government announced an aid package of 1 billion Euro over five years.

The Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment’s website lists Tunisia’s overall unemployment rate for 2014 as 15% against a rate of 15.3% in 2013, and 16.7% in 2012. Youth unemployment stands in excess of 30% nationally and higher in certain regions, particularly the interior governorates of Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine.

The protests, which began in Kasserine before spreading throughout the country, had begun as a sit-in by unemployed locals demanding jobs, but turned violent following the funeral of Ridha Yahyaoui on Sunday.

Yahyaoui, an unemployed man in his mid to late twenties, had been participating in protests outside the municipal headquarters with other unemployed youth demanding municipal jobs.  On Saturday, upon discovering that his name had been removed from a list job candidates maintained by the municipality, Yahyaoui climbed an electric post near the sit-in.  Accounts differ as to whether he was climbing the post to deliver a speech or to make a suicide threat. Whether accidentally or as an intentional act of suicide, Yahyaoui came into contact with the high tension wires and fell to ground.

President Beji Caid Essebsi with the family of Ridha Yahyaoui who's death sparked a week of nationwide protests. | Source: Facebook
President Beji Caid Essebsi with the family of Ridha Yahyaoui who’s death sparked a week of nationwide protests. | Source: Facebook

Yahyaoui was transported to the regional hospital in Sfax where he pronounced dead on Saturday, January 16, 2016.  The regional hospital in Kasserine lacked the resources to treat the burns which followed his electrocution.  Just as the regional hospital in the neighboring governorate of Sidi Bouzid lacked the facilities necessary to treat the burns of Mohamed Bouazizi five years ago.

According to a source cited by Agence France Presse (AFP) ‘seven names, including that of the victim, had been removed from the new list, which originally included 79 people.’ The list consisted of local unemployed university graduates who were to be given priority access to local government jobs.  There are reports, and more importantly reports which are accepted as fact by the protesters, that Yahyaoui’s name was removed from the as a retaliation for his participation in protests and sit-ins.

On Monday, Prime Minister Habib Essid had announced the first delegate of the governorate Kasserine, responsible for maintaining the list, was dismissed and an investigation would be opened into “the circumstances of the development of this list in order to take the necessary measures.”