Tunisia unrest spreads to capital, military deployed

Soldiers were deployed in the centre of Tunis on Wednesday after a wave of job protests spread overnight to the capital for the first time.

Tunisia unrest spreads to capital, military deployed

Soldiers were deployed in the centre of Tunis on Wednesday after a wave of job protests spread overnight to the capital for the first time.

Officials say has killed 23 people so far, rights groups dispute the official number.

On the city's main avenue, two military vehicles were parked opposite the French embassy, and two soldiers with weapons were patrolling in the street, a Reuters reporter said.

A short distance from downtown Tunis, two Humveee vehicles were parked at the entrance to the state television headquarters and two soldiers wearing helmets and flak jackets were patrolling with automatic weapons.

A Reuters reporter in the working-class Ettadamen neighbourhood of Tunis said he saw hundreds of youths, who had earlier blocked roads with burning tyres and hurled stones at police, try to attack a local government building.

Police fired warning shots into the air and also fired teargas grenades to try to force people back from the building, the reporter said.

"We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God," the crowds chanted.

In the strongest U.S. statement on the violence to date, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was "deeply concerned by reports of the use of excessive force by the government of Tunisia".

The civilian deaths -- almost all of them in clashes in provincial towns at the weekend -- came about when police fired on protesters.

Until Tuesday evening there had been no reports of major new clashes after the army was deployed in the most restive towns, schools and universities were shut indefinitely and police with loudhailers ordered people in at least one town not to gather in the streets.

Souhayr Belhassan, who chairs the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, had earlier told Reuters the figure established by her organisation was 35 people killed. "The toll ... could get worse," she said.

The main focus of the protests has been bread-and-butter issues but some of those taking part have criticised President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, especially on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

In one of the most vivid examples, a song by a 22-year-old rapper entitled "Mr President, your people are dying", was widely circulated online. The rapper, Hamada Ben-Amor, was detained and released three days later, his brother said.

Ben Ali said on Monday the rioting was a "terrorist act", orchestrated by foreign forces trying to damage Tunisia. He also promised to create 300,000 jobs before the end of 2012.


Agencies

Last Mod: 12 Ocak 2011, 16:54
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