AFP: TUNIS/BEN GUERDANE, Tunisia: The mausoleum in Sidi Bou Said, a prime Tunisian tourism destination, has been ravaged by fire in what is thought to have been an arson attack which the presidency Sunday denounced as a criminal act. “This crime against our culture and history must not go unpunished,” a presidency statement said, urging police to “spare no efforts in arresting the criminals” who Saturday set alight the mausoleum on the outskirts of Tunis.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche said an investigation was under way to “determine whether it was an accident or an indictable offense.”
Interior Minister Ali Larayedh received a hostile reception from an angry crowd when he visited the scene Sunday, an AFP photographer said.
“Get out, get out!” around 150 residents of Sidi Bou Said village shouted at the minister from the Islamist Ennahda party which heads the government.
The residents were angered when Larayedh said: “This is a criminal act, but it is not up to the police to protect all mausoleums, it is up to the people in charge of these mausoleums.”
A police officer told AFP the shrine had probably been targeted by individuals using Molotov cocktails, but there were no witnesses to the attack.
There is ongoing social discontent in Tunisia two years after the uprising that overthrew Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, with strikes and protests often degenerating into violence.
Soldiers were deployed to the town of Ben Guerdane Sunday, near the border with Libya, after a week of clashes between police and residents protesting over social inequalities.
Since last Sunday, the town, which is around 30 kilometers from the border, has witnessed sporadic unrest fueled by Tripoli’s decision to close the Ras Jdir border crossing in early September for security reasons.
There was no sign of police on the streets of Ben Guerdane Sunday, and no reports of clashes a day after youths set fire to the local police station for the second time in three days.
Saturday, protesters also hurled abuse at the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, whose local headquarters were ransacked during the week. A customs office was also torched.
The protesters, demanding development projects to revive the area’s local economy and reduce unemployment, asked that soldiers be sent in to keep the peace in the town. Civil representatives of the town are forming a delegation to meet the Islamist-led government Tuesday.