Tunis (Reuters) - Thousands of policemen protested outside the Tunisian prime minister’s office on Thursday demanding better pay, equipment and protection, as the birthplace of the Arab Spring faces a growing security threat from radical Islamists.
Tunisia’s moderate Islamist government has said al Qaeda-linked militants have been accumulating weapons with the aim of creating an Islamic state, two years after the revolution that inspired uprisings across the Arab world.
Police say they do not have the appropriate resources to deal with the threat from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and domestic Islamist militants who have easy access to weapons from neighboring Libya.
Around 3,000 uniformed officers gathered in Kasabah Square in front of the office of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, chanting slogans demanding higher salaries, more equipment and legal protection if they fire their weapons in the line of duty.
“This protest aims to bring to the attention of the prime minister all the risks to the security forces... including the threat from al Qaeda,” said Montassar Materi, Secretary General of the Security Forces Syndicate, a union of police officers.
The ruling Ennahda party that won Tunisia’s first post-Arab Spring election in October 2011 has struggled to restore stability following the ousting of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisian Interior Minister Ali Laryed said in December that police had arrested 16 Islamist militants who had been accumulating weapons. Earlier this month, authorities said they had seized a big arms cache in the south of the country and made several arrests.
This week Tunisia’s state news agency reported that the government had deployed special combat units to its borders with Algeria and Libya to protect its oil and gas installations from potential attacks from Islamist militants. That followed the al Qaeda-linked attack at an Algerian gas plant.
Despite moves to combat militant threats, Tunisia’s secularist groups have accused the Ennahda party of being too soft on extremists.
The Ennahda government has also faced many protests over economic hardship. Hampered by declining trade with the crisis-hit euro zone, it has struggled to deliver the better living standards that many Tunisians had hoped for.
Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Rosalind Russell