Cautious calm in Redayef after fatal clash
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 11/06/08
Calm has been restored to the mining city of Redayef in the southernmost section of Tunisia after violent clashes last weekend between residents on the one side and police and army elements on the other left one person dead and several more wounded.
Since the beginning of the year, tensions in Redayef have been high between local authorities and unemployed youths, who were unable to pass an entrance exam administered by the Gafsa Phosphates Company (CPG). Residents claimed the company employed favouritism and nepotism in selecting the winners, an accusation the CPG has denied.
Deteriorating living conditions and a rising rate of unemployment have brought tension to both Redayef and the neighbouring city of Oum Larais, especially among university graduates.
A statement issued last Friday (June 6th) by the people of Redayef condemned what they called the "assassination of martyr Hefnaoui Megzaoui", and demanded that "all those who were responsible for his killing be held accountable and punished; that the undeclared state of emergency be lifted; and that the police siege be lifted from the city".
Tunisian Minister of Justice and Human Rights Bechir Takari commented that such incidents take place in all countries. "Preliminary investigations denote that a group was arrested in the process of preparing Molotov cocktails," he said. "They were detained, but objected to the intervention of the security forces, leading to skirmishes that resulted in the killing of a person."
"The situation is tense," Redayef resident Mokhtar, who refused to give his full identity, told Magharebia. "The solution is not in the city of Gafsa, but in the capital."
Members of all sectors of Tunisian society, including those known for loyalty to the regime, rejected the tactics used by police in dealing with the protestors, describing their conduct as violent and irresponsible.
The Tunisian General Labour Union, the largest labour organisation in Tunisia, issued a communiqué expressing concern over the violence and calling on the government to provide equal opportunities for the unemployed. "The solution to social disputes can't be reached by resorting to violence. Rather, it should be reached through dialogue with the participation of all parties concerned," it said.
Meanwhile, the Green Party for Progress (PVP) called on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to direct more attention to the mining area in Gafsa with measures to support "the provincial development programmes".
Other groups stressed the proper execution of civil rights to protest. The Liberal Social Party said, "Criticism and protest are basic civil rights, but they need to be practiced in full compliance with the rules of the law. The demands, however legitimate they may be, don't give the people calling for them the right to breach the law and wreak havoc."
The unemployment rate in the Governorate of Gafsa is high in comparison to other governorates. While the official figure is 24%, independent sources suggest it may be as high as 40%. The national rate of unemployment in Tunisia is 14%.
In what many expect will be a quieting move, the President decided on Monday to sack the general manager of the CPG, which is the primary employer in the region.
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