Eyewitnesses say Tunisian security forces have clashed with groups of mostly young protesters in the capital Tunis Thursday, along with scattered reports of clashes in other cities.
Al-Jazeera TV showed a video of a Tunisian Army convoy trying to advance amid a large crowd as riot police appeared to confront the crowd from a nearby side street. The sound of gunfire could be heard at several points.
Chawki Tabib, attorney and former president of the Association of Young Tunisian Lawyers tells VOA that he saw security forces firing on the crowd in the center of the capital.
He says that he and a group of colleagues saw security forces near the headquarters of Tunisian government radio firing on young protesters waving Tunisian flags and throwing rocks at them. He adds that the security forces fired tear gas at the protesters before resorting to real bullets.
Tunisian government TV also showed images of businesses and government offices that appeared to have been ransacked and burned in a number of cities and towns. It complained that uncontrolled mobs of demonstrators were looting and pillaging private and government property.
Tunisian President Zein al Abdine Ben Ali addressed the country Thursday night on government TV, saying that he was setting up a committee to study popular grievances.
He says that he is setting up a national committee made up of independent national figures that have credit with all sectors of society to look at elections, the press, universities and other things in the lead up to parliamentary elections in 2014.
Protesters have continued to defy a government ordered curfew in the capital Tunis, and clashes between large crowds and riot police have resulted in a number of casualties. Human rights groups say that four people were killed, while al-Jazeera TV claims that 11 died in the violence.
Prime Minister Ghannouchi announced Wednesday that he had fired and replaced the country’s interior minister. He also announced that demonstrators not involved in looting would be released.
The wave of unrest began in December when a 26-year-old university graduate set himself on fire after police confiscated goods he was hawking on the street. Authorities said he was selling without a permit.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged the government to stop security forces from using excessive force against protesters. Navi Pillay also has urged Tunisia to launch a "transparent and credible investigation" into the unrest.