Tunisia says two killed in clashes
Tunis, January 9, 2011
Two civilians were killed and eight injured in overnight clashes with police in a provincial town, the Tunisian government said on Sunday, in the latest in a series of riots across the north African country.
The clashes late on Saturday in the town of Thala, about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of the capital and near the border with Algeria, were the deadliest since rioting began nearly a month ago.
People taking part in the riots in towns and cities say they are angry at a lack of jobs and investment but officials say the unrest is the work of a minority of extremists intent on damaging the country.
In a statement, the government, quoting an unidentified Interior Ministry official, said police had opened fire after warning shots in the air failed to stop a violent crowd from attacking government buildings.
"The police opened fire in legitimate self-defence and this led to two dead and eight wounded, as well as several wounded among police, three of them seriously," the statement said.
It said the crowd used petrol bombs and stones to attack a filling station, a government building and a police station.
At least six residents in Thala who spoke by telephone to Reuters said they had seen several military vehicles enter the town late on Saturday. There had been no previous reports of the military being brought in to help police quell the rioting. Government officials did not respond to phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on military involvement.
Witnesses in Thala told Reuters they had seen four bodies after the clashes, contradicting the government's death toll. Several witnesses said they were neighbours of the victims and had seen the bodies in hospital or in their families' homes.
"There are at least four dead, maybe more than that," Belagcem Saihi, a trade union activist told Reuters. He said he had also seen the bodies.
Witnesses in the nearby town of Gassrine, the provincial centre, told Reuters by telephone there were violent clashes there and several people had been hurt.
President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has said the protests are unacceptable and could harm Tunisia's interests by discouraging investors and tourists who provide a large part of the country's revenues.
Tunisian authorities say that, throughout the unrest, police have used force only where necessary to stop protesters endangering life and ransacking government buildings.
Officials have issued figures detailing government investment in the past few years in regions affected by the rioting, most of them in the interior of the country away from the more prosperous coastal areas.
The United States said on Friday it had called in Tunisia's ambassador in Washington to express its concern about the protests.
Demonstrations are rare in Tunisia, which has had only two presidents since independence from France 55 years ago. The country has in the past been praised by Western allies as a model of stability and prosperity in the Arab world. - Reuters