Tunisia faces teacher strike, protests against new government
Many Tunisians protested Monday to show their disapproval of the interim government – which includes members of the government of former President Ben Ali – while teachers went on strike.
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Teachers across Tunisia went on strike Monday, a day when many students intended to return to class after weeks of violent protests that brought down the government of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Protests against the interim government also turned violent Monday, with demonstrators hurling rocks and bottles at riot police, smashing police cars, and shattering windows at the Finance ministry. Police fired tear gas at protesters. Across Tunisia, many businesses remained shuttered, as fears of unrest jostled with hopes for a more democratic future.
The actions of teachers, protesters, and nervous shopkeepers show that Tunisia is far from returning to business as usual, and that the interim government now faces a serious test of its staying power.
IN PICTURES: Tunisia riots
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi took over after Mr. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14. He is leading a caretaker government that mixes officials from the hated former government with new blood. Mr. Ghannouchi has pledged elections for a new government in six months, but many Tunisians don't seem willing to wait that long. They say new ministers have merely been co-opted into the new government as window dressing for what remains a corrupt and autocratic regime.
The teachers' union called for an indefinite strike to protest the inclusion in the transitional government of ministers from Ben Ali's regime. Classes had been canceled since Jan. 10, according to Le Monde. A teachers' union official said that on Monday most teachers nationwide appeared to have heeded the union's call and stayed away from classrooms, Agence France-Presse reported.
AFP reported that clashes began Monday after dozens of protesters moved against police lines outside the prime minister's office. Hundreds camped out overnight outside the office, despite a curfew.
"We will stay here until the government resigns and runs away like (ousted president Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali," a student identified as "Othmene" told AFP.
AFP called this a "make-or-break" week for the new government. Le Monde also said that Monday's protests and strikes would sorely test Ghannouchi's hastily assembled regime. The strike followed protests Sunday by thousands of union members, leftists, Islamists, and women and children against that government. (See video from Euronews.)