Union calls off strike in restive Tunisian town

By the Associated Press | December 2, 2012 | 1:33 PM EST

Tunisian protesters clash with riot police, in Siliana, Tunisia, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. The army moved into a southwestern Tunisian town, an official and witnesses said Friday, the fourth day of protests that have injured more than 300 people. President Moncef Marzouki said on television that the North African country's government has not "met the expectations of the people" and asked that a new one, smaller and specialized to deal with the unrest, be formed. The current government has about 80 members. (AP Photo/Amine Landoulsi)

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — A Tunisian labor union on Sunday suspended a nearly weeklong strike in an impoverished central town after the national government agreed to remove a local governor.

Over 300 people had been injured in clashes with police this week in Siliana, 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Tunis.

The Regional Workers Union called a strike last week to protest the area's economic problems, its lack of government investment and the imprisonment without trial of 14 activists for the last year and a half.

The strike degenerated into daily clashes between stone-throwing youths and police, who responded with tear gas and buckshot.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission criticized police for using excessive force and the ministry of health announced Saturday that two civilians had lost an eye from the buckshot.

Before hundreds of supporters in Siliana, union official Ahmed Chafei announced the "provisional suspension" of the strike to "test the seriousness of the promises made by the government."

"The governor will never again set foot in Siliana, he has truly left and if he returns we will restart the strike," he told the cheering crowd.

Unrest in the poor regions outside Tunis has particular resonance, for it was there that a young man selling vegetables burned himself to death, setting off protests that toppled Tunisia's longtime dictator in January 2011. That in turn set off what is now known as the Arab Spring revolutions.

Since then, however, Tunisia's economy has struggled, especially with the economic crisis in Europe, its largest trading partner. High unemployment and low investment continue to plague interior regions.