Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Tunisia Unemployment Unrest Escalates; Army Deploys in Capital

Troops deployed in the Tunisian capital Wednesday as the government sacked the interior minister and announced it would free protesters after weeks of demonstrations that unions said left scores dead.

In a sign of increasing government concern, armored vehicles rumbled through Tunis and troops took up positions at major intersections and the entrance to the Cite Ettadhamen quarter where rioters burnt vehicles and attacked government offices late Tuesday.

It was the first rioting in the capital since protests over unemployment erupted mid-December, turning violent in the west of the country at the weekend when security forces opened fire on demonstrators.

With the government criticized for using excessive force against demonstrators, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced the dismissal of interior minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem, responsible for the police force.

The government said 21 people were killed in three days of unrest in the western Kasserine region, and that security forces acted in self-defense, but labor unions and rights groups said more than 50 were killed.

Ghannouchi also told a press conference that all those arrested in the wave of demonstrations had been released, but gave no figure for how many had been originally detained.

Opposition sources said army chief General Rachid Ammar was also sacked for refusing to order soldiers to stop rioters, but this was not confirmed by official sources.

The prime minister also said allegations by opposition and non-government groups into corruption would be investigated by a special commission.

Troops deploying in Tunis took up positions around the headquarters of the state broadcaster and a central tramway station.
Extra police and special intervention units also stood guard in a central square, across from the French embassy and the main cathedral, where on Tuesday police had dispersed demonstrators who were gathering to condemn the deadly crackdown.

Violence broke out later Tuesday in Cite Ettadhamen, several kilometers from the center of the capital.

The European Union raised concern about the "disproportionate" use of force against the protesters, echoing concerns raised late Tuesday by the United States.
The violence was "unacceptable" and those responsible "must be identified and brought to justice", a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
"We are concerned about the disproportionate use of force by police against peaceful demonstrators," spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.
The United States said Tuesday it was "deeply concerned by reports of the use of excessive force by the government of Tunisia".

Protesters unleashed a rare wave of protests in the tightly controlled north African country following the suicide of a 26-year-old graduate who set himself on fire on December 17 after police prevented him from selling fruit and vegetables at a market.

In a bid to quell the protests, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali announced Monday the creation of 300,000 jobs on top of 50,000 already pledged for the regions, but branded the protesters "gangs of thugs".


Tunisia unrest leaves 50 dead

Tue Jan 11, 2011 11:12AM
Tunisian security forces face demonstrators during clashes on January 10, 2011 in Regueb, near Sidi Bouzid in the center of the country.
The International Federation for Human Rights says up to 50 people have been killed in violence in the African nation of Tunisia over the weekend.

"We have a list of the names of the 35," Souhayr Belhassen, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights said on Tuesday, AFP reported.

"The total figure is higher. It's somewhere around 50, but that's an estimate," the president of the Paris-based federation of 164 human rights groups added.

According to AFP, a union official put the number of those killed at 50.

"The number killed has passed 50," AFP quoted Sadok Mahmoudi, a member of the regional branch of the Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT), as saying, who cited tolls issued by medical staff in Tunisia's central Kasserine region.

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators, as more violence has been reported.

The unrest has been blamed on rising living costs and high levels of unemployment

Massive riots and protests have rocked Tunisia this past month. They were sparked when a 26-year-old street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December to protest the seizure by police of the farm produce he had been trying to sell to make a living.

In the wake of Bouazizi's attempted self-immolation, hundreds of thousands took to the North African nation's streets. The protesters complain of unemployment, economic woes, and an omnipresent dictatorship.


Hillary Clinton is not taking sides between the Tunisian tyrants and the unarmed protestors

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