A Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire yesterday in protest against police practices against him, provoking protests and confrontations with the police. The police used tear gas to disperse protestors in Tebourba, 35km from the capital Tunis.
The young man, who works as a fruit vendor, decided to set himself on fire in front of the police station in protest against the municipal police, who banned him from selling strawberries. He was treated at the scene and then taken to hospital.
This incident recalls the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire six and a half years ago in protest against the confiscation of his cart by a policewoman in Sidi Bouzid. That incident sparked violent protests that ended with the overthrow of the ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime.
Hundreds of angry young men marched down the streets in Tebourba, setting fire to car tires, throwing stones at security officers and blocking the railway line. Police chased the protesters and security forces unleashed tear gas to disperse them.
Reuters quoted one of the local residents, who said, “The situation is very tense in Tebourba. Police arrested many angry young men protesting against the lack of development and angry at the incident where the street seller set himself on fire.”
Despite praise for Tunisia’s smooth democratic transition, many citizens are still dissatisfied over the rise of unemployment, marginalisation and rising prices.
Tunisia is facing a delicate economic situation and a political transition filled with security risks because of the war on “terrorism”, in addition to the chaos that is destroying Libya and armed groups taking refuge in mountains in the west of the country.
The protests in Tebourba come in the context of other protests in the south demanding jobs and a share of natural resources. President Beji Caid Essebsi announced on Wednesday that the army will protect facilities linked to the country’s natural resources in order to prevent the protestors from halting production again.