More Tunisian protesters killed in police clash

At least 20 people have been shot dead in clashes with police late Saturday and early Sunday in two central Tunisian towns amid protests.

More Tunisian protesters killed in police clash

At least 20 people have been shot dead in clashes with police late Saturday and early Sunday in two central Tunisian towns amid protests over the cost of living, sources of the opposition said.

But, the Tunisian government said on Sunday "eight" civilians were killed in clashes with police in two provincial towns in the past 24 hours.

Witnesses said another three people were killed in clashes on Sunday in a third town, but there was no official confirmation of those accounts.

People taking part in the unrest, which has lasted for nearly a month, say they are angry at a lack of jobs and investment.

A leading opposition figure urged President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to order a ceasefire to prevent further bloodshed.

The government had earlier issued a statement saying two people were killed when police fired during overnight clashes in the town of Thala, about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of the capital, near the border with Algeria.

In a later statement it said three people injured in the Thala violence had since died of their injuries and that three people had been killed in separate disturbances in the nearby town of Gassrine on Sunday.

"Several government buildings in Gassrine were attacked by groups who set fire to and destroyed three banks, a police station and a filling station and set fire to a police vehicle," the statement said.

"The police fired in the air but the crowds continued and the police acted out of legitimate self-defence, which led to three deaths."

"Firing everywhere"

Chokri Hayouni, a witness in Gassrine, the administrative centre of the region where Thala is located, told Reuters by telephone: "Young men are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and the police are opening fire everywhere in the streets."

Two witnesses in the town of Rgeb, 210 km west of Tunis, said three people there, including one woman, were killed in clashes with police on Sunday.

"I saw three dead people with my own eyes," one of the witnesses, union official Kamel Abidi, told Reuters.

Government officials did not respond to phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on the casualties. Staff at the local hospital in Rgeb refused to answer questions.

Unrest in the past few days in neighbouring Algeria over unemployment and food prices has killed two people and injured hundreds, officials said. The violence in Algeria appeared to have subsided on Sunday and there was no evidence of any link to the Tunisian unrest.

"Ceasefire plea"


Nejib Chebbi, founder of the PDP opposition party, said in a statement sent to the media a ceasefire was needed "to spare the lives of innocent citizens and to respect their right to protest peacefully."

Earlier, at least six residents in Thala who spoke by telephone to Reuters said they had seen several military vehicles enter the town late on Saturday.

There had been no previous reports of the military being brought in to help police quell the rioting. Officials could not be reached to comment on military involvement.

Tunisian authorities defend police firing throughout the unrest, as saying police have used force only where necessary to stop protesters endangering life and ransacking government buildings.

Before Saturday night's violence in Thala, two people had been killed in the unrest. Another two killed themselves in acts of protest, including one man who set himself on fire last month, triggering the series of riots.

Tunisia has recorded strong economic growth in the past decade but it has not been fast enough to satisfy demand for jobs. This is particularly acute among the young in the interior of the country, away from the more prosperous coastal areas.


Agencies

Last Mod: 09 Ocak 2011, 18:42
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