Thursday, 13 January 2011

Tunis Imposes Curfew in Capital After Deadly Clashes

13/01/2011 Tunisian authorities imposed curfew in the capital, as troops were deployed in streets after violent protests over food prices and unemployment has reached the heart of the city.

Troops rolled into the capital on armored vehicles and trucks Wednesday and took up positions at major intersections, amid increasing concern at the spreading protests over rising food prices and unemployment.
Soldiers guarded the entrance to the Ettadhamen quarter where rioters burned vehicles and attacked government offices late Tuesday.

But the army presence failed to prevent fresh violence in the center on as hundreds of protesters hurled stones at police at a key intersection in Tunis. Officers responded with volleys of tear gas, driving the protesters to disperse into adjoining streets. Stores in the area were shuttered.

The violence spread south Wednesday with new clashes in the towns of Douz, Thala and Sfax.
Witnesses said that police had opened fire on protesters in Douz, 550 kilometers from the capital, killing some protesters.


The Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, sacked his interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, on Wednesday after he was widely criticized because the security forces opened fire on demonstrators over the weekend, killing between 20 and 50 people.

The interior ministry ordered the curfew from 8pm (1900 GMT) to 5:30am on Thursday, citing "disturbances, pillaging and attacks against people and property which have occurred in some districts of the city".

The Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, told a news conference on Wednesday that all those arrested in the wave of demonstrations had been released, but gave no figure for how many had been originally detained.

Ben Ali had only a few days earlier accused the rioters of committing acts of "terrorism".

Tunis had been spared the protests that began in mid-December, and turned violent in the west of the country at the weekend when security forces opened fire on demonstrators, until Tuesday when rioters attacked a local government office in the Cite Ettadhamen quarter.

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.


The European Union denounced the "disproportionate" use of force by police while the UN human rights chief called for an independent probe into the deadly violence.

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

"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.


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