Protests in Montreal, Riots in Tunisia

At Least 10 Killed by Tunisian Police Since Mid-December

Protesters demonstrate against escalating government sanctioned violence in Tunisia. PHOTO MEAGAN WOHLBERG

Dozens of Tunisians and their supporters gathered outside their country’s consulate in Montreal on Sunday to denounce the political violence that has left as many as 20 protesters dead and many more injured.

Shouting “down with the dictator of Tunisia” and “stop the carnage, get out of [the presidential palace] Carthage,” they called for the immediate end to the massacre of Tunisians and for the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

It was the fifth Montreal demonstration since the violent uprisings began in mid-December over high rates of unemployment and the rising cost of living gripping the North African country.

Haroun Bouazzi, organizer of Sunday’s rally, said the nation-wide uprising now consisting of thousands of lawyers, students, and union members has been decades in the making.

“The Tunisian people have been quiet and boiling for the past 23 years,” he said, referring to the time since Ben Ali was first elected in 1987. “Today all Tunisians are together not only for social justice, but also against corruption and for democracy.”

Riots began on Dec. 17 after 26-year-old unemployed graduate Mohammed Bouazizi desperately lit himself on fire when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling on the street without a permit. He died several weeks later from third-degree burns.

Up to 20 people have been shot dead by police since the protests began. Many more have been injured or arrested. There have also been reports of other attempted suicides.

More recently, several journalists, bloggers, alleged hackers, and even a rapper have been arrested and their computers seized and have not been heard from since.

Ghassen Ben Khelifa, who spoke at the Montreal demonstration, said that it is now obvious to the world that the Ben Ali regime is not only corrupt, but “bloody” and a “terrorist [organization].”

“It’s very sad what’s happening, but we can also see things from a positive viewpoint,” said Khelifa. “Why? Because according to the famous saying, in a dictatorship everything goes well until the last 15 minutes. The fear changed camp today. It shows that the dictatorship is weakening. It is scared and its days are numbered.”

Ben Ali enjoys friendly relations with western countries due to his strong pro-trade stance. But the recent killings of civilians are prompting Tunisian-Canadians to say that such support for this dictatorship is hypocritical.

“The Arab world is starting to be free and asking for democracy,” said Aziz Hathout, another of the rally’s organizers. “We just want the Harper government to understand that, as Canadian citizens as well, we won’t accept Canada supporting this regime.”

Opposition leader Nejib Chebbi has called for a ceasefire to protect the lives of citizens and their right to protest peacefully, but authorities say that police are only using force when necessary to protect property and lives.

Ben Ali, who has consistently won disputed elections with 90 per cent of the vote for 23 years, called the protests “unacceptable” and warned that they could further injure the economy by discouraging tourists and investors.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 18, published January 11, 2011.