TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A strike in a low income region of Tunisia has degenerated into a second day of clashes between police and protesters, leaving 177 people injured, including some seriously, a hospital official said Wednesday.
A local labor union organized a general strike in Siliana, a poor town in Tunisia's interior, on Tuesday to protest a lack of jobs and government investment. Witnesses say police violently dispersed a peaceful march to the city hall for the second day in a row.
"A climate of panic, tension and fear has gripped the region," said Iyadh Dahmani, the area's representative in legislative assembly. He denounced the use of tear gas and shotguns by police to disperse the demonstrators.
The Interior Ministry, however, maintained that police only moved against the demonstration when they attacked city hall and threw stones at security forces.
Nejib Sebti, one of the organizers of the original strike on Tuesday, said that more than 10,000 people rallied peacefully in front of city hall calling for more local development.
"Egged on by the governor who rejects any dialogue, security forces reacted in a manner even more brutal than the repression of Ben Ali," he said, referring to the president overthrown by Tunisians in January 2011.
Since the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian economy has suffered and the country has been wracked by demonstrations and strikes as people protest the lack of jobs.
On Tuesday, the World Bank approved a $500 million loan to help support reforms in Tunisia's financial sector to encourage investment and growth.
Tunisia's revolution, which sparked similar uprisings across the region, began in the impoverished interior of the country, which suffers in comparison to the more affluent coast.
Dr. Aymen Aissa of the local hospital told The Associated Press that 177 people had been treated at the hospital with 22 sent to the capital Tunis for further treatment — including some with eye injuries.
The hospital had reported 14 people injured in clashes Tuesday.
In addition to more jobs, demonstrators are also calling for the resignation of the government, a member of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party that dominated last year's elections, and the release of 14 jailed activists.
There have been reports of similar demonstrations in other local towns in the area.