Tunisia: Peaceful Protests Turn into Violent Confrontations

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

Protests calling for immediate political reforms and the resignation of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannoushi continue in Tunisia. Apparently, the ousting of the former President Ben Ali is not good enough for a large portion of Tunisians who seek an overthrow of the whole regime and cutting all ties with the past. On Friday, about 100,000 protesters gathered in the streets of the capital Tunis to rally against the interim government chaired by Ghannoushi.

Protestors in front of the Interior Minstry in Hbib Bouguiba Avenue photo by Khaled Nciri

Demonstrators, find it hard to trust Ghannoushi who has been a close ally of Ben Ali and a long-standing member of his government since 1989, serving as a Prime Minister from 1999 until today.
Later on the night of February, 25, peaceful protests suddenly turned to violent clashes between the police and protesters. It is not clear yet, what triggered the confrontations, but there is no doubt that security forces used tear gas and fired bullets into the air to disperse protesters, gathered at Habib Bourguiba Avenue, near the Interior Ministry.

Riot Police used tear gas to disperse protestors photo by Khaled Nciri

Human Rights Watch(@hrw) only confirms the use of tear gas:

For past 90 mins, HRW watched police firing tear gas at demonstrators in front of Interior Ministry

On its Facebook fan page, the Interior Ministry reports that the protesters tried to break into the ministry's building:

عداد غفيرة من المتظاهرين عمدوا عشية يوم الجمعة إلى مهاجمة مقر وزارة الداخلية بشارع الحبيب بورقيبة بالعاصمة حيث القوا كميات كبيرة من الحجارة على مبنى الوزارة ومحيطها…
وحاول أعوان قوات الأمن الداخلي ووحدات الجيش الوطني تفريق المتظاهرين عبر إطلاق النار في الهواء وإلقاء القنابل المسيلة للدموع لكن المتظاهرين واصلوا بإصرار محاولاتهم اقتحام مبنى الوزارة.

On Friday evening, a large number of protesters deliberately attempted to break into the headquarters of the interior ministry in Habib Bourguba avenue, in the capital, throwing a huge amount of rocks on the building and its surroundings. The security forces and the army tried to disperse the protesters by firing bullets into the air and using tear gas, but they did not back down and insisted on breaking into the ministry's building.

Update: The Interior Ministry has reported that 21 police officers were injured in the clashes and that there was a lot of material damage to shops, a supermarket, and a police station.

A Tunisian blogger describes the situation at Habib Bourguiba Avenue as she saw it from her window:

C'est le K-O à l'Av H.Bourguiba. C'est la 1ère fois que je vois ça (par ma fenetre). C'est pire que se qui s'est passé le 14 Janvier. Les manifestants ont tout brulés, meme le centre de police près de l'Hotel Africa (Le 7ème). On a secouru des jeunes qui fuyaient la police et d'autres étouffés par les bombes lacrymogènes

It's chaos in Habib Bourguiba avenue. I have never seen anything like it before (through my window). It's even worse than what happened on January, 14. Protesters burned everything, even the police station near the Africa Hotel. We have helped young people who were running away from police and others breathing hardly because of tear gas

Kais (@KaisEG) tweets:

Ça brule devant le ministère de l'interieur… (Source:mes yeux)

It's burning in front of the interior ministry…( source: my eyes)

Mathieu Von Rohr,(@mathieuvonrohr) a Foreign Affairs Correspondent of DER SPIEGEL tweets:

Degeneration of peaceful protest into violence in #Tunis is sad to watch. Some ppl are understandably frustrated, but this does not help.

He adds:

Some hooligans now vandalizing shops on main avenue in Tunis.

The clashes have not caused any deaths but only one serious injuiry.
Vlademir Yebanov (@VlademirYebanov) tweets:

encore du sang sur l'avenue bourguiba.. un blessé grave vient d'etre hospitalisé maintenant

More blood in Hbib Bourguiba Avenue..someone who is badly injured enters hospital now

Julien Collinet(@jcollinet),a Canal+ journalist likens the clashes to a war:

Ambiance de guerre sur l'avenue Bourguiba

an atmosphere of war in Habib Bourguiba avenue

Nicola Beau, a French journalist and writer portrays in his blog Habib Bourguiba Avenue, on Saturday morning after a Friday night of violent clashes:

” On ne reconnait plus notre Tunisie”? Ce matin samedi, un spectacle de désolation, avenue Bourguiban au centre de Tunis, où tout a été saccagé. Des casseurs? des provocateurs? Ou des jeunes en colère contre l'incapacité du pouvoir actuel à prendre simplement la parole? Une certitude, les forces de l'ordre n'ont pas fait dans le détail. Des jeunes se sont réfugiés, affolés, dans les chambres d’ hôtels. La peur était revenue.

” We do no longer recognise our Tunisia”? This Saturday morning, an atmosphere of desolation, Habib Bourguiba avenue downtown Tunis, where everything was pillaged. Rioters? Challengers? Or an angry youth against the failure of the current authority to communicate with them? There is one thing for sure, riot police did not pay attention to the details. Anxious young people took refuge, in hotel rooms. Fear has come back.

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

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