Tunisians Eager To Hold On To Newfound Freedom

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A supermarket smolders after it was sacked and looted in Bizerte, Tunisia, on Jan. 15. Despite the continuation of random attacks by forces loyal to the country's former president, residents of the northern port city say they are striving to get on with their lives.

A supermarket smolders after it was sacked and looted in Bizerte, Tunisia, on Jan. 15. Despite the continuation of random attacks by forces loyal to the country's former president, residents of the northern port city say they are striving to get on with their lives. Hassene Dridi/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Hassene Dridi/AP

In Tunisia, remnants of forces loyal to ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali continue to stage attacks around the country. Lone gunmen often target civilians rather than taking on the more powerful Tunisian army.

These attackers are making life difficult for Tunisians.

The scars of the popular uprising that brought down the Tunisian president last week are visible in the port city of Bizerte, the northernmost city of Africa.

Alongside the many white buildings with blue shutters are the blackened remains of burned-down stores and offices. Most businesses remain closed. Graffiti calling the president's wife a whore are spray-painted on a billboard.

But residents of Bizerte say they are trying to get past their anger toward the former leader and overcome their fear of what's next.

Teacher Najwa Madeah stops to chat with a neighbor in front of a fire-gutted department store. She is on her way to the market for the first time in a week

She credits her newfound confidence to the many soldiers on Bizerte's streets. They stand watch or patrol the winding streets in trucks.

Unlike in Tunis, where the army's interaction with residents is sometimes tense, soldiers and residents of Bizerte are friendly. They say the army took over there after the police force fled.

Nevertheless, rogue officers who are loyal to the former president continue to cause trouble.

In recent days, a sniper fired into a crowd and killed one person. And resident Meqi Ben Ramadan says two men wearing uniforms of the presidential guard broke into his home.

The 52-year-old government worker says when he went to check on the noise, the black-clad guards wearing ski masks and carrying handguns chased him up the stairs. He says they fired at him, but missed.

The bullets took chunks of plaster out of the stairwell.

Ben Ramadan describes how the guardsmen broke into his rooftop storage room and destroyed an ornate lamp. He shows a visitor bullet cartridges fired by soldiers who pursued the gunmen.

Ben Ramadan believes the presidential guards came to his house because it overlooks a military compound across the street. He says when Ben Ali visited Bizerte in the past, his presidential protection detail would take over his rooftop.

He says he's never been as afraid as he was that night, adding that his 23-year-old son is still afraid to leave the house.

Resident Amin Ben Gharbia, 28, says he, too, feels under siege. He also finds it interesting that Ben Ali loyalists are still fighting in his city, where about a half-century ago, the French made their last stand trying to hold on to this strategic locale after Tunisia gained independence.

"Maybe it's because this city is too close to the capital and also it's by the coast. Maybe it's easier for them to escape on boats. We don't know yet, but also this city has many mountains and there are many places they can hide," he says.

Whatever the case, he says he and others in Bizerte are determined not to let rogue gunmen take away their newfound freedom.

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