Tunisian protest tear-gassed, teachers strike
Monday, January 24, 2022 10:06 AM

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(Source: Associated Press/AP Online)By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI

TUNIS, Tunisia - Authorities clashed with anti-government protesters outside the prime minister's office Monday, teachers went on strike, and police demanded the right to form a union, as Tunisia struggled to stabilize itself after its president was overthrown.

Following an overnight 'sleep-in' in defiance of the country's curfew, scores of protesters from Tunisian provinces gathered in central Tunis, shouting anti-government slogans. As the crowd grew rowdy, police fired tear gas grenades in the air.

Demonstrators covered their faces with Tunisian flags to protect themselves from the acrid clouds. They shattered the windows of police cars, sending shards of glass into the empty cars and onto the ground near the building where the prime minister works. No injuries were immediately reported.

Schools were set to reopen Monday after protracted closure because of the unrest, but teachers went on strike. Some students joined the demonstrations instead of heading to their classrooms.

The protesters are angry that holdovers from former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime have leading posts in the interim government in place since last week. Ben Ali fled the country Jan. 14 after 23 years in power, pushed out by weeks of deadly protests driven by anger over joblessness, corruption and repression.

Noisy street demonstrations have continued since Ben Ali's departure, but most have been peaceful. The confrontation Monday morning was brief and involved a small group of protesters, and the atmosphere seemed calm soon afterward.

Police officers were holding a separate protest of their own near the Interior Ministry in central Tunis, demanding to be able to form a union.

State TV also reported Monday that a former Ben Ali political adviser who had been sought by police, Abdelwaheb Abdallah, has been located and placed under house arrest.

Police have cracked down on key allies of the ousted president, placing two high-ranking officials under house arrest and detaining the head of a well-known private TV station for allegedly trying to slow the country's nascent steps toward democracy.

Tunisia's so-called "Jasmine Revolution" sparked scattered protests and civil disobedience across the Middle East and North Africa. Many observers are looking to see if Tunisians can complete their fervent push for democracy.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took that post in 1999 under Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has vowed to quit politics after upcoming elections. But he has insisted that he needs to stay on to shepherd Tunisia through a transition to democracy. Many other Cabinet members also are Ben Ali-era holdovers.

In France, Tunisia's colonial-era overseer, President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged Monday that his government "underestimated" the anger that drove Tunisian protesters to overthrow their longtime leader. Tunisia was a French protectorate and France has maintained close ties with its leaders since independence.

Sarkozy said it would be inappropriate for France to meddle in Tunisia's current affairs or exhibit "colonial reflexes."

Earlier this month, France's foreign minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, was criticized for offering French security know-how to Tunisian authorities as they struggled to subdue protesters. Some 78 civilians have been killed, many shot by police, according to the government's official count. The opposition says the overall toll is much higher.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Ghannouchi and said the U.S. is encouraged by indications the interim government is trying to be inclusive and ensure that the many segments of Tunisian society will have a voice.


Khalil Ben Hamida in Tunis contributed to this report.

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