Tunisian capital under curfew, more dead

Tunisia's capital was under curfew as new clashes erupted with five people killed.

Tunisian capital under curfew, more dead

Tunisia's capital was under curfew and troops were in the streets after weeks of violent protests reached the city and new clashes erupted with five people killed on Wednesday.

Facing his most serious challenge since he came to power more than 23 years ago, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fired his interior minister and ordered jailed protesters to be freed. But the moves failed to halt more protests.

People taking part in the unrest say they are angry about unemployment, corruption and what they say is government repression.

"More dead"

Crowds of people gathered to protest in three provincial towns, witnesses said. In Gassrine, about 200 km (125 miles) from the capital, several thousand people chanted "Ben Ali, go away!".

In the Sahara desert town of Douz, three witnesses told Reuters at least four people had been killed when police opened fire, including one university professor.

Two witnesses told Reuters that police in the town of Thala, scene of fatal shootings at the weekend, fired teargas to try to disperse a crowd of people but when that had no effect they opened fire, killing 23-year-old Wajdi Sayhi.

The victim was deaf, said his brother, Ramzi.

"The police told him to go home but he heard nothing, and they fired towards him," he told Reuters by telephone. "They (the government) promised us and promised us and now they have promised us death," he said.

"Curfew"

The government declared a nightly curfew for Tunis and surrounding suburbs from 8 p.m. (1900) until 6 a.m..

When the curfew fell in the El Omran neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, hundreds of youths who had been throwing stones at police carried on, a Reuters reporter at the scene.

He said police responded with tear gas and by firing into the air. The youths had earlier set fire to a bank branch.

The latest official death toll from the unrest -- which is now entering its fourth week -- is 23, though some international rights groups say the count is higher.

Earlier, in an attempt to take the momentum out of the unrest, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannounchi said the president had decided to appoint Ahmed Friaa, an academic and former junior minister, as the new interior minister.

He did not give a reason for the change but he said the president "has announced the creation of a committee of investigation into corruption and to assess the mistakes of certain officials."

In further concessions, he said Ben Ali had decided to free everybody detained over for taking part in the riots and promised financial help to jobless graduates -- a group whose grievances have been a driving force behind the unrest.

Military Humvee jeeps and armed soldiers were patrolling at least two locations in the centre of Tunis on Wednesday and most shops were shut. Most parts of the city, on the Mediterranean coast, appeared calm after the curfew fell.

"Rising international pressure"

Adding to mounting international pressure on Tunisia over its handling of the protests, the European Union, Tunisia's biggest trading partner, said the violence was unacceptable.

"We cannot accept the disproportionate use of force by the police against peaceful demonstrators," Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters: "The United States is deeply concerned about the violence" and called for restraint.

Labour activists say security forces have killed more than 50 people in three days from Saturday in demonstrations in the western Kasserine region.

"Whatever the precise total, I am extremely concerned about the very high number of people killed in Tunisia in recent weeks," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

"It is imperative that the government launch a transparent, credible and independent investigation into the violence and killings," she said.

If members of the security forces were found to be guilty of excesses, they should be brought to book, Pillay added.

The protests, now entering their fourth week, are being watched closely in other countries in the Arab world with the potential for social unrest.


Agencies

Last Mod: 13 Ocak 2011, 17:44
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