By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA, Associated Press
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian police stepped up security while protesters from across the spectrum accused the government Tuesday of betraying the revolutions that started in this country and rocked the Arab world.
The protests were held to mark three years since a young vendor set himself on fire in desperation over unemployment and police harassment, unleashing an uprising that ousted a longtime dictator. While Tunisians have more freedoms today, the country is struggling on its road to democracy amid rising terrorism concerns and soaring unemployment.
The demonstrations, in the capital and Bouazizi's depressed hometown of Sidi Bouzid, were tense but no violence was reported. The U.S. Embassy advised Americans to avoid protest gatherings in case they degenerate into riots.
The extremist Ansar al-Shariah movement, which has links to al-Qaida and is believed to have organized an attack on the U.S. Embassy last year, was among those that called for protests at the government headquarters in Casbah Square in downtown Tunis.
Police filled key intersections and checked cars entering downtown. Protesters denounced the media and what they called counter-revolutionaries.
Vendor Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation on Dec. 17, 2010, sparked an eruption of pent-up anger at corruption and repression across Tunisia. That in turn led to revolts that overthrew leaders in Egypt and Libya and shook up other Arab countries.
Tuesday's protests showed discontent remains. Tunisia's leaders stayed away from Sidi Bouzid for security reasons, after last year's anniversary events descended into boos and tomato-throwing.
The town has 24 percent unemployment, many of them college graduates.
The protests included ultraconservative Muslims calling for a caliphate as well as activists demanding jobs.
"Far from getting better, the living conditions for the population are deteriorating, and the three governments that followed one after the other have done nothing to turn things around," said protester Youssef Jelili.
The protests came days after the selection of a new prime minister meant to replace the Islamist-led government with technocrats. Mehdi Jomaa, a 50-year-old independent, was chosen after weeks of contentious debate by 21 political parties meant to pull Tunisia out of a political impasse prompted by the killing of opposition leaders.
Jomaa has three weeks to form a government, which will prepare for presidential and legislative elections next year. No date has been set.