Tunisia

Unrest spreads in Tunisia as protests hit capital

People walk past wreckage of bus which was damaged during recent clashes with police, on main square in Cite Ettadhamen near Tunis
People walk past wreckage of bus which was damaged during recent clashes with police, on main square in Cite Ettadhamen near Tunis Reuters

Weeks of unrest in Tunisia have spread to the capital, where the heaviest protests took place on Wednesday. Police opened fire on a demonstration in the central town of Douz, killing two, the AFP wire service reports.

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The sacking of the Tunisian interior minister and the deployment of troops has failed to bring calm to the capital Tunis which again erupted on Wednesday.

Security forces fired tear gas on hundreds of demonstrators in the heaviest protests yet in the capital after weeks of demonstrations since December.

Some demonstrators in the capital have been calling for President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to stand down, correspondent Léa-Lisa Westerhoff reports.

“You can feel the tension, the security forces are using tear gas and I saw hundreds of demonstrators who were asking president Ben Ali to leave,” she says.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghanouchi has announced the release of all those arrested during protests and fired Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kassem.

Westerhoff says this move did not calm protesters taking to the streets.

“Things are still pretty tense here. Two hours after the announcements, there were a couple of protests in town which were rapidly disrupted by the police.”

The United Nations has called on Tunisian authorities to launch an investigation into the violence.

Meanwhile the European Union has condemned the use of what they call "disproportionate" force by Tunisian police.

The United States also says it is concerned by reports of the use of excessive force by the government.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for North Africa says Tunisians have long been dissatisfied with the authoritarian Tunisian regime.

“Tunisia has been the most repressive, the most authoritative regime of the Arab world for a number of years. It’s the strongest police state and has the heaviest hand,” he said, ‘there was an assumption that that had kept it stable. People’s discontent was so heavily repressed that there was nothing they could do.

“The riots are a bit surprising, but the tension has been bubbling for some time,” Sahraoui says. “At some point there had to be an eruption.”

In the town of Douz in central Tunisia, police opened fire on a protest in the central Tunisian town of Douz Wednesday, killing two people, a witness told AFP wire service.

"The victims are Hatem Bettaher, a university lecturer, and Riad Ben Oun, an electrician," said the witness on condition of anonymity.

"Between four and five other residents are wounded, some of them seriously," he said.

The army has been deployed in towns in the country’s south and west. Speaking in the town of Beja, trade unionist Ali Hamdi says the army is trying to cut off restive towns.

“Towns are in a situation of siege and the government is trying to isolate them and resort to the army to control the situation," Hamdi says.

Hamdi says trade unions are preparing a general strike scheduled for Thursday.

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