TUNIS, Tunisia — Hundreds of protesters stormed the seat of the local government in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid on Friday where the revolution first erupted that went on to spawn the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East.
Civil servants fled the mob, which eventually was dispersed by police firing tear gas and warning shots into the air. The crowd was also calling for the release of dozens arrested in earlier demonstrations. The incident came as a joint U.N.-African commission presented its report after a weeklong mission warning of the serious challenges faced by the country, which started the region-wide pro-democracy uprisings.
Sidi Bouzid, where a fruit vendor set himself on fire in front of city hall to protest police abuse and lack of opportunity, continues to have a poor economy and high unemployment, and has been the scene of numerous demonstrations in the last year and a half.
"Sidi Bouzid and other regions in the northwest and center of Tunisia continue to face major economic and social challenges because people are frustrated that their situation has not improved since the revolution," cautioned the joint report of the U.N. and the African Commission on Human Rights.
Since overthrowing long-ruling President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians have elected a new assembly and made great strides towards creating a new political system.
Tunisia's constitutional assembly, divided among Islamist, liberal, and leftist parties is currently fiercely debating the drafting of a new constitution.
The joint mission expressed its concern over plans to include an anti-blasphemy clause in the new constitution that would criminalize attacks on religion, such as those insulting major Christian or Muslim tenets of faith.
"This leaves a considerable space for individual interpretation and risks being applied in an abusive fashion," warned Margaret Sekaggya, the mission's head.
She also urged the constitutional assembly to enshrine the equality of men and women in the constitution, rather than saying they were "complementary" as had been urged by Islamists.