Media censorship criticized, Tunisia leader warns protesters

Several human rights organizations strongly criticized censorship and police violence against journalists in Tunisia after the clashes.

Media censorship criticized, Tunisia leader warns protesters

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali deemed on Tuesday that job protests as "unacceptable" and would hit jobs and tourism after protests by graduates demanding work and what they called an end to corruption.

Protests are rare in Tunisia, which has been run for 23 years by President Ben Ali and works closely with Western governments, but have been gathering force in recent weeks.

The Tunis protest on Monday followed the deadly shooting by police of a jobless graduate in Bouziane, south of Tunis, last Friday. Around 1,000 people took part in the demonstration, called by independent trade union activists.

The use of "violence in the streets by a minority of extremists" against the interests of their country is not acceptable, President Ben Ali said in a speech broadcast by Tunisian television, saying "justice" would prevail.

"It will have a negative impact on creating jobs," the president added. "It will discourage investors and tourists (to visit) which will hit jobs."

Tunisia’s unemployment rate is 14 percent, but the percentage of graduates without work is about double that, prompting a warning from the IMF.

"Four officials suspended"

Clashes broke out earlier this month in the town of Sidi Bouzid after a man committed suicide in a protest about unemployment. The protests later spread to several neighbouring cities such as Sousse, Sfax and Meknassi.

Tunisian authorities have suspended four people over the attempted suicide of an unemployed man that sparked days of protests in the north African country, media reports.

A local government leader in Sidi Bouzid and three of his aides have been removed from duty, including a female officer who had a confrontation with 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi, the Achourouk daily reported.

The female officer slapped and spat at Bouazizi, who was selling fruit and vegetables on the streets to support his family, Le Temps daily reported.

Bouazizi doused himself with petrol and set himself alight on December 17, sustaining severe burns, triggering days of protests in the region against high youth unemployment.

Tunisian police used batons on Monday to disperse the demonstration in Tunis, the first time a recent spate of protests has reached the capital.

The Tunisian government accused opposition on Monday of manipulating the clashes at the weekend between police and young people in Sidi Bouzid to discredit the authorities.

Two witnesses told Reuters that rioting resumed late on Monday in Sidi Bouzid. A least one protester was killed during the clashes and several were injured.

"Media censorship"

Several human rights organizations also strongly criticized censorship and police violence against journalists in Tunisia after the clashes.

The government has imposed a complete news blackout on the region of Sidi Bouzid since mid-December since the attempted suicide, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said.

Journalists who wanted to report on the demonstrations, some of which turned into riots, were arrested.

In one case a journalist was beaten in his flat, RWB said.

Security forces have sealed off the whole region and official media has reported that the protests are merely unconfirmed rumours.

Tunisia remains relatively prosperous compared to African peers but several international right groups say its government crushes dissent, an accusation it denies.



Related news reports:

Tunisia job protests spread to capital
Last Mod: 29 Aralık 2010, 11:30
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