Tunisia 'to respond' to protests

Government agrees to make concessions after weeks of deadly clashes and unrest that left at least 14 people dead.


    The Tunisian government has said it will listen to protesters, after weeks of unrest over high unemployment and the cost of living left dozens of people dead and raised the tensions.

    Samir al-Obaidy, the country's communications minister, told Al Jazeera that the government was responding to the unrest.

    "The message has been received by the government and all political channels," he said.

    "With the backing of the president, we have already put in place urgent measures and allocated $5bn for the development of various areas."

    Government officials reported that 14 people were killed since Saturday in clashes between the security forces and protesters in the towns of Thala, Kasserine and Regueb.

    However, Tunisian union sources said that the number was at least 20.

    In a statement, several political parties and movements, including the Progressive Democratic Party and the Renewal Movement, called on the government to stop the violence.

    They called for "a ceasefire and the return of all military and security forces to their compounds", as well as the "release of all detainees including political ones".

    The opposition also demanded more freedoms and asked the government to respect the political will of the people.

    More deaths

    Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger and university assistant, told Al Jazeera that "a lawyer confirmed that more than 20 people were killed in Thala and Gassrine alone".

    Nizar Ben Ibrahim Slimi, 22, was killed during Sunday's protests [Lina Ben Mhenni]

    "Last night I went to the hospital in Regueb, a town that is 38km from Sidi Bouzid, and can confirm that at least five people were killed," she said.

    "Among them was a young woman of 26 years old, who is a mother of two children. I went to her home and her family said that she was not taking part in the demonstration - she was just walking past the area."

    Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the death toll in Tunisia.

    Belgacem Sayhi, a teacher and trade union activist, said that the victims in Tala were between 17 and 30 years old, and were killed when the police opened fire on the crowd.

    Protesters had set fire to the offices of the ruling political party, and the government said that police only fired back when warning shots failed to disperse the crowds.

    Ben Mhenni told Al Jazeera said that she tried to visit Kasserine as well, but police had cordoned off the town and did not let her in.

    Union sources said that security forces surrounded the headquarters of the Federation of Labour in the city, trying to break into it.

    Spreading east

    The clashes were reported to have also spread to the town of Sousse on the eastern coast of the country.

    More on the story on Al Jazeera's Tunisia spotlight page

    "In Sousse, students organised a rally that ordinary citizens also joined, and the police were very violent towards them," Ben Mhenni said.

    She said she knows two students who were detained during that rally and subsequently released.

    Demonstrators attacked government party offices in the town of El Muhammadiyah on the Libyan-Tunisian border and in the central Koirouan state, where security forces responded by firing tear gas, injuring several demonstrators.

    Protests were also seen in Jendouba, a city in the northwest, and in Haffouz and Hajeb, in Kairouan, where witnesses said angry demonstrators burned municipality headquarters.

    Samir al-Obaidy, the government minister, also told Al Jazeera that the government was ready for a dialogue with young people.

    "We are going to review what needs to be reviewed, we are going to correct what needs to be corrected, but the violence is a red line," he said.

    Rapper released

    Authorities on Sunday released Hamada Ben-Amor, a 22-year-old rapper, known to fans as "The General".

    He was arrested after posting a song on the internet titled "President, your people are dying" that talks about the problems of the youth and unemployment.

    "After three difficult days my brother has returned to us safely," the rapper's brother, Hamdi Ben-Amor, said on Sunday, without giving further details.

    Zine al Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president, has said the violent protests are unacceptable and could harm the country's interests by discouraging investors and tourists who provide a large part of the country's revenues.

    Protests traditionally have been rare in Tunisia, which has had only two presidents since independence from France 55 years ago.

    The US state department last week expressed concern about the demonstrations, as well as the hacking into emails and Facebook by the Tunisian government.

    Lina Ben Mhenni confirmed that her hacked Facebook and emails were still blocked. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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