CARTHAGE, Tunisia (Reuters) - Several thousand Tunisian police marched to the presidential palace on Monday to demand more pay in the latest challenge to Prime Minister Habib Essid’s government after a week of protests and riots over jobs.
Tunisia’s security forces are at the forefront of the country’s war with Islamist militants, who have attacked army checkpoints and patrols and launched major assaults on a tourist hotel a museum and the presidential guard last year.
Chanting “Wages still in the red” and “We defend the nation, we want our rights,” police in civilian clothes marched to the presidential palace in Carthage on the outskirts of the capital Tunis.
Job seekers also staged a fresh protest in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, and were dispersed by police using tear gas, witnesses said.
Unemployed youths were also holding a sit-in at a government building in the city of Kasserine, and a similar protests were held in the southern city of Gafsa and the northern town of Beja.
Tunisia’s government is facing increasing challenges including a split in the ruling party Nidaa Tounes, a stubborn Islamist militant insurgency, a weak economy and the explosion last week of social tensions over jobs and opportunities.
Thousands of young men took to the streets in Kasserine last week after an unemployed man committed suicide when he was refused a job. That sparked protest and riots across the country until the government declared a nationwide curfew.
The protests were the worst since the uprising that toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali five years ago and underscored how vulnerable the North African country remains to social unrest.
“We are looking to improve our situation like other sectors, especially as we are the frontline in defending the country,” Chokri Hamada, a police union spokesman at the protest in Tunis told Reuters. “We don’t have any trust in the government after all their promises.”
Presidential guards blocked the road near the palace where around 3,000 police gathered in peaceful protest.
The government is already under pressure from international lenders to cut public spending and trim its budget deficit as part of economic reforms meant to bolster growth and jobs.
France, Tunisia’s former colonial ruler, last week pledged 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) over five years to help Tunisia deal with its transition to democracy.
Tunisia managed to avoid the violent after-shocks seen in other Arab Spring countries that toppled long-standing leaders in Egypt, Yemen and Libya. Its young democracy brought a new constitution, a political compromise between secular and Islamist parties and free elections.
But economic advances have not emerged and many Tunisians worry more about jobs, high costs and lack of opportunities. Unemployment stood at 15.3 percent in 2015, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and lower investment.
Writing by Patrick Markey and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Tom Heneghan