Clashes between police and protesters occurred today in the northwestern governorate of El Kef following a general strike that shut down most commercial activity in the region, confirmed Khaled Tarrouche, spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, to Tunisia Live.
“Groups of people attacked today the police station of the governorate and threw stones at police men, which obliged them to resort to tear gas to disperse them and protect themselves,” said the spokesperson.
While everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate, violence will not be tolerated, he emphasized.
Today’s general strike was organized by the local branch of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and comes at a time when the city’s local economy is under stress.
“The strike was successful with many local inhabitants supporting our initiative and joining our protest,” said Ibrahim Guesmi, secretary general of the regional UGTT in El Kef, to Tunisia Live.
Olfa Touati, a local civil society activist and member of the Development Organization of El Kef, confirmed that most locals participated in the general strike and that shops across the region were closed.
According to Guesmi, the executive body of the UGTT’s regional subsidiary decided to organize today’s general strike to put pressure on the government, which it accuses of procrastinating in the undertaking of local regional development projects.
“We signed an agreement on June 3, 2012 with the government… We agreed with the prime minister to add the Sraoutane phosphate project, which would employ up to 6,000 employees, to the state budget allocated to El Kef region,” said Guesmi.
He added that both parties agreed as well to hold working sessions for the realization of projects proposed by the labor union.
“The projects were supposed to be launched during the fall of 2012, yet until now nothing has happened. El Kef is still suffering from economic isolation and unemployment problems. Nobody answers our calls,” said Guesmi.
Amel Amri, a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) representative from El Kef, told Tunisia Live that she understands the local economic situation and the grievances of the region’s inhabitants.
“It is their right to protest and organize a general strike, yet I do not agree with the way they made known their demands,” said Amri of the unrest experienced today in El Kef.
She asserted that the government is not neglecting the region.
“There are 10 projects under construction, yet it is the laws that are disrupting progress,” she said. “Instead of organizing general strikes, people should follow the procedures by going to the ministries, which are taking charge of the development files in El Kef.”
Jameleddine Gharbi, the minister of regional development and planning, declared to Tunisian radio Mosaique FM today that 58 development projects have been carried out in El Kef and 136 are in progress of being completed.
He added that 34 more development projects still linger for several reasons such as the lack of competent staff or poor administration. Among these projects are a cultural complex, a center for the education and rehabilitation of disabled persons, a national road, and a project to improve access to potable water in the local town of Djerissa.