News / Africa

Tunisian Government: 14 Killed as Rioting Continues

Tunisians protest against high prices and unemployment, Tunis, 08 Jan 2011.
Tunisians protest against high prices and unemployment, Tunis, 08 Jan 2011.

The Tunisian government says 14 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, in the latest rioting during an unprecedented wave of unrest sparked by widespread unemployment and high food prices.

The interior ministry, in statements issued directly or reported by the official TAP news agency, said the deaths have occurred since late Saturday in the western towns of Kasserine, Thala and Regueb, near the border with Algeria.  The government said several police officers were wounded in the clashes.

Riots in the North African nation were triggered last month when a 26-year-old university graduate in the central city of Sidi Bouzid who could only find work as a street merchant set himself on fire after authorities confiscated his produce. The man, Mohammed Bouazizi, later died of his burns.

The street protests by angry students, professionals and youths have grown into the most widespread and violent outburst of popular dissent in President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule.

Najib Chebbi, who diplomats say is the most credible leader in Tunisia's weak opposition, called Sunday on the Tunisian leader to immediately order security forces to stop using firearms.

The protest wave had died down after Mr. Ben Ali named a new youth minister and a new governor for Sidi Bouzid.  Official media said he also ordered a $4.5 billion plan to create jobs for Tunisians with university diplomas.

Thousands of Tunisian lawyers went on strike last week, angered by what they say were beatings by security forces during demonstrations they recently staged in support of the students.  In Tunis Thursday, lawyers gathered at the main courthouse, where police stood guard but did not intervene.

Protests are rare in Tunisia, where the government tolerates little dissent.

Meanwhile, unrest in neighboring Algeria over soaring food prices has killed at least two people and injured hundreds since Thursday. There is no evidence of any link to the events in Tunisia.

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