Calm returned Saturday to the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, after an overnight curfew imposed because of violent post-election protests.
The unrest appeared to have been sparked by the disqualification over campaign finance violations of a party led by a former member of the regime ousted in January by Tunisia’s pro-democracy revolution.
The riots had threatened to tarnish the country’s first free elections, which won praise from world leaders keenly watching developments in a country setting the pace for democratic uprisings across the Arab world.
A police official said on Saturday there had been no incidents during the night, the town’s weekly market was open, and residents were going about normal activities as teams worked to clean and repair public buildings that were vandalised during two days of unrest.
“Why would anybody want to destroy a thousand years of court archives?,” Moez Hamdouni, a 42-year-old schoolmaster asked as he led a group of volunteer cleaners, shouting orders through a loudspeaker.
A few tanks remained stationed by the police headquarters and town hall, however, and schools remained closed.
“The material damage is huge, it looks like the place was struck by a hurricane,” said one of the dozens of residents who walked out of their homes armed with brooms, spades and wheelbarrows to clean up the town.
Late Friday, Hechmi Haamadi, a businessman whose Popular Petition won in Sidi Bouzid, appealed to the town’s residents to halt the protests, echoing an appeal by the head of the Islamist Ennahda party which won Sunday’s polls.
Tension had remained high late Friday despite the curfew, as disgruntled groups were threatening further damage and the army boosted patrols in the town, an AFP correspondent reported.
An interior ministry spokesman told AFP Saturday that the curfew, which was in effect from 7:00 pm Friday to 5:00 am (0400 GMT) on Saturday, would be maintained as a precautionary measure.
“Calm in Sidi Bouzid has to be sustained and we are maintaining this measure until further notice,” he said, adding that no injuries were reported during the protests.
Several newspapers accused some players still loyal to ousted dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of stoking unrest by tapping into popular discontent in Sidi Bouzid, a particularly impoverished town.
It was here that fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate, set himself on fire on December 17 last year to protest abuses under Ben Ali’s 23-year-old regime.
He died days later, but Bouazizi’s desperate act sparked the popular revolt that toppled Ben Ali less than a month later and ignited region-wide uprisings that have since toppled long-standing leaders in Cairo and Tripoli.
The October 23 election saw a massive turnout and confirmed the dominance of pre-poll frontrunners Ennahda despite efforts by secular parties to counter the rise of the Islamist party, whose office in Sidi Bouzid was targeted by some rioters.
Results show that Ennahda took 90 of the 217 seats in the constituent assembly, a body which is seen as the custodian of the revolution and will be tasked with forming an interim government and writing a new constitution.
Analysts have said that Ennahda, even in a majority alliance would be obliged to appease coalition partners, a moderate-minded society, and the international community on whose investment and tourism the country relies heavily.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Saturday congratulated the party on its victory.
“We congratulate Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party, and wish success for the Tunisian nation,” Salehi said at a news conference in Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Salehi also hoped that Tehran and Tunis officials would soon exchange visits, the report said.