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TUNIS — Forty-nine policemen were injured in clashes with demonstrators protesting against the reopening of a rubbish dump on Tunisia's tourist island of Djerba on Saturday, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP.
"A large number of protesters in the centre of Guellala attacked a police post with rocks and petrol bombs," Khaled Tarrouche said. "There were 49 police injured, with fractures and other injuries caused by rocks and petrol bombs."
He said six police vehicles were burned, no arrests were made and just two demonstrators were hurt, "which shows the violence came from the protesters, not the police."
Tarrouche said reinforcements have been sent from the capital to Guellala, a town of some 13,000 people in southern Djerba, a popular tourist destination, and that by early evening calm had returned.
The spokesman said the trouble was sparked when the local authorities decided to reopen a rubbish dump until 2013.
In the morning, around 40 protesters blocked access to the site, and after negotiations with the authorities failed, security forces fired tear gas to disperse them.
During the afternoon, a much larger crowd took to the streets in the centre of Guellala, where they attacked the police, Tarrouche said.
"The law will be applied to everyone who participated in this violence," he said.
Since last year's revolution that ousted former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the southern holiday island has been spared the kind of violence afflicting other parts of Tunisia where clashes between police and protesters are common.
On Friday in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to break into the regional government headquarters.
Such protests have multiplied in recent weeks, amid rising discontent over poor living conditions, including unemployment, regular water cuts and the state's failure to collect rubbish, as well as other social grievances.
There is also anger over the arrest of protesters at recent demonstrations.
Sidi Bouzid is where Tunisia's mass uprising first began that touched off the Arab Spring when a street vendor immolated himself in December 2010 in protest over his own precarious livelihood.
Poor living conditions were a driving factor behind the revolution.
The Islamist-led government, despite coming to power just a year ago after the first free elections in decades, is frequently accused of having failed to improve the living standards of ordinary Tunisians.
As the authorities have acknowledged, improved security is critical to the revival of the tourism sector, a key driver of the economy, contributing to around 7.0 percent of GDP and employing 400,000 people directly or indirectly.
Tunisia has witnessed a rise in tourism this year, of about 30 percent in the first six months compared with the same period last year, when the Arab Spring turmoil across the region kept many foreigners away.
But the number of visitors has yet to return to pre-revolution levels.