Ben Ali calls for end to shooting as death toll mounts

Reuters/Tunisian State TV/Handout

Violent anti-government protests broke out in the Tunisian capital on Thursday afternoon. Gunshots were heard in Tunis as several hundred demonstrators were dispersed by security forces. But President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali called on Thursday evening for an end to shooting on protesters.


At least one demonstrator was shot dead by police, and others were wounded in gunfire on Thursday.

“The situation is still very, very tense in the capital,” says correspondent Léa-Lisa Westerhoff. “I saw one person injured who was shot in the knees by the police and witnesses have told me that two people have been shot by the police.”

The family of a man who was shot in the head by police say he had been on his way home before the beginning of the curfew on Wednesday night when he was killed.

“The rioters left the main demonstration to go and loot buildings in the town centre,” Mahmoud Baroudi, the secretary general of Tunisian opposition Democratic Progressive Party (PDP) told RFI.

An 18-year-old boy died or was seriously injured in a fire at Carrefour while the rioters pillaged the supermarket in Nabeul (30 kilometres from Tunis) according to Baroudi.

“There were no policemen, only a couple of soldiers, in front of the town hall. We tried to call the fire brigade. They did not respond,” says Baroudi. “They have been sent somewhere else. The situation here is critical.”

Violence spread to the resort of Hammamet Thursday. Demonstrators smashed up a police station and holiday villas.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said at least 66 people have been killed in the unrest, and called the government crackdown a “massacre”. Government figures are much lower.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali addressed the nation Thursday evening. He ordered an end to firing on demonstrators, promised complete freedom of information and on the internet and said he had no intention of amending the consititution to allow him to stand for another term in 2014.

Meanwhile, an Al-Qaeda leader has expressed support for the protesters, urging the overthrow of Ben Ali, a monitoring group said.

In a 13-minute video, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, gave strategic advice and urged protesters to "send their sons to us to receive training with weapons and to gain military experience," the US-based Site Monitoring Service said.

France joined the United Nations, European Union and United States in voicing concerns about the violence.

"We cannot continue with this disproportionate use of violence," said French Prime Minister François Fillon. "We urgently call on all parties to show restraint, to choose the path of dialogue."

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