Deadly protests continue in Tunisia

UN calls for probe into police crackdown as 11 more deaths are reported in clashes across North African nation.

    A nightly dusk-to-dawn curfew is being imposed in the capital Tunis [EPA]

    Violent clashes have been reported across Tunisia, including in the capital Tunis, despite a frantic bid by the government to control the wave of dissent that has engulfed the country for nearly a month and shows no signs of abating.

    Sources told Al Jazeera on Thursday that at least 11 people have been killed in the past two days in clashes with security forces.

    Those killed included three people in the town of Menzel Bourguiba, one person in Bizerte and one in Tataouine. 

    A woman with dual Swiss-Tunisian nationality was reportedly shot in the throat by police during a demonstration in the town of Dar Chaabane on Wednesday, the Swiss foreign ministry announced.

    Eye witnesses said that a sixth person was killed in Tunis on Thursday. An unidentified American journalist was also reportedly injured after a bullet shot him in the leg, the Associated Press reported.   

    Police killed another four people in the southern town of Douz, according to the Reuters news agency.

    Protesters, angry over unemployment and rising food prices, chanted anti-government slogans in several cities, including Bizerte, Sidi Bouzid, and Kairouan.

    'People in shock'

    A dusk-to-dawn curfew that was enforced in Tunis and the surrounding suburbs for the first time the previous night failed to end the violence as clashes erupted in the capital overnight.

    The curfew, from 8pm to 6am local time every night, is set to continue for an indefinite period.

    There was confusion and fear on the streets of the capital, a source told Al Jazeera in a phone interview on Thursday.

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    Banks and supermarkets had been pillaged and set on fire overnight.

    "People are shocked, they are standing watching buses on fire," the source said.

    "People are going home to lock their doors, they are very scared … everybody has stopped working." He confirmed that gunshots were heard in Tunis on Thursday afternoon.

    Sources also told Al Jazeera that the interior ministry is seeking to retain its authority by violently clamping down on the ongoing protests.

    "Now it seems that this ministry is struggling to keep power in its hands," a source said.

    On Wednesday, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fired Rafik Belhaj Kacem, the interior minister. Yet the ministry remains a powerful force.

    "We're talking about 150,000 policemen who are used to torturing and abusing people," he said.

    UN call for probe

    Meanwhile, the lower house of the Tunisian parliament held an emergency session on Thursday to investigate the protests. The upper house is set to hold its own emergency session later in the day.
    The United Nations high commissioner for human rights urged Tunisia to investigate the police killings of scores of civilians and voiced concern over the arrest and torture of activists on Wednesday.

    "I'm aware that Tunisia does not have a good record in tolerating protests. The Human Rights committee alerted it to address the issue, to investigate harassment and intimidation as far back as 2008 and therefore I am concerned about the condition of peaceful protesters who are being held in detention and there are allegations that they are being subjected to torture", Navi Pillay said.

    Protests against the Tunisian government also continued in Europe on Thursday, with protesters in Berlin, Paris and Brussels calling on the EU to take a stand over the police violence.

    "The hospitals are struggling to deal with all the injured. It's like a massacre. We want the EU, Germany and France to exert pressure to take measures against this," Hechmi Daoussi, demonstrating outside the German foreign ministry in Berlin on Thursday, said.

    Following the protest in Germany, Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister called the escalating violence "deeply worrying".

    "We expect that the harsh actions against demonstrators stop," he said.

    The rare unrest in tightly controlled Tunisia was unleashed by the attempted suicide of a 26-year-old man who set himself on fire on December 17 after police prevented him from selling fruit and vegetables to make a living. Mohamed Bouazizi died early this month.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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