Protester dies in Tunisia clash

Several wounded in Sidi Bouzid as demonstrations against unemployment turn violent.

Tunisian protesters
Demonstrators protesting against joblessness have clashed with security forces, a rare occurrence in Tunisia [AFP]

One civilian has been killed and several others wounded in Tunisia following a clash with police who opened fire on protesters in a central Tunisian town.

An interior ministry spokesperson said police in Bouziane, 240km south of the capital Tunis, had been forced to “shoot in self-defence” after shots into the air failed to disperse scores of protesters who were setting police cars and buildings ablaze on Friday.

Mohamed Fadel, leader of the Secondary Education Union, identified the dead teenager.

“Mohamed Ammari was killed by a bullet in the chest when police opened fire, while many other protesters were wounded,” Fadel told the Reuters news agency.

“Police have now taken control of the situation … There is a quasi-curfew in the city.”

Rioters had barricaded a police station during the unrest, and used Molotov cocktails to torch the building and some police cars, officials said in a statement carried by the official TAP news agency.

“Numerous members of the [national] guard suffered burn injuries, two of them are in a coma,” the spokesperson said.

Unemployment woes

The cause of the latest violence was not immediately clear but similar clashes broke out on December 17 in the town of Sidi Bouzid after a man committed suicide in a protest over unemployment.

A 26-year-old university graduate, Mohammed Bouazizi, had eked out a living peddling fruit and vegetables because he could not find a job.

When police confiscated his produce because he did not have the necessary permit, he doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights said.

Bouazizi was transferred to a hospital in the capital Tunis with severe burns.

The incident prompted violent demonstrations in which protesters burned tyres and chanted slogans demanding jobs.

Tensions heightened on December 22 when another young man climbed up an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed.

The government would not confirm a suicide, but ordered a judicial investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Mohamed Nouri Jouini, the Tunisian development minister, travelled to Sidi Bouzid on Thursday to announce a new $10m employment programme.

Political dissent

The Tunisian government, which tolerates little dissent, has accused its opponents of manipulating the clashes between police and young people in Sidi Bouzid to discredit the authorities.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which does not have a seat in parliament, called on the government to stop arresting young people and instead focus on dialogue and job creation.

Riots are rare in Tunisia, which has been run for 23 years by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and works closely with Western governments to combat al-Qaeda operatives.

The North African country has become a regional focus for international financial institutions since announcing a plan to complete current account convertibility of its dinar currency over the 2010-2012 period.

Source: News Agencies