TUNIS (Reuters) – Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters clashed with police in a provincial Tunisian town on Tuesday after authorities bulldozed an unlicensed cigarette kiosk, killing its owner sleeping inside, witnesses said.
Street protests are frequent in Tunisia, where a popular uprising toppled autocratic rule nearly a decade ago and ushered in democracy but little economic progress, with living standards for many still low, unemployment high and corruption rife.
In the town of Sbeitla, the site of an ancient Roman city in Tunisia’s hilly, impoverished interior, residents blocked roads with burning tyres and threw stones at police, who chased, witnesses said.
Soldiers were then deployed to protect government buildings in Sbeitla.
Local officials and witnesses said a cigarette vendor was sleeping inside his kiosk in Tuesday’s pre-dawn hours when municipal police arrived with a bulldozer and flattened the structure, killing him under the rubble.
After the man’s death was confirmed by local authorities, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi dismissed the governor of Kasserine province, where Sbeitla is located, and three local security officials in an effort to defuse local anger.
The overnight bulldozing of the kiosk inflamed the nearby community where many have long complained about police heavy-handedness in dealing with poor, marginalized people.
Sbeitla is near some of Tunisia’s most deprived cities including Sidi Bouzid, where the 2011 revolution began after a street vendor immolated himself in protest at harassment and confiscations of his wares by police.
(This story corrects spelling of town name throughout to Sbeitla from Sheitla)
Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich