Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 6 News List

At least four dead in Tunisian unrest

TURNING THE TIDE:The authorities’ crackdown on protesters has attracted criticism from even the UGTT, a union said to be close to the government

AFP, TUNIS

Demonstrators in Tunis chant slogans in solidarity with the victims of clashes in the town of Sidi Bouzid on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

At least four people were shot dead and six seriously wounded late on Saturday when security forces clashed with demonstrators in central Tunisia, witnesses said.

Teacher and union activist Belgacem Sayhi said security forces opened fire on the protestors in Tala, in the center-west region of Kasserine. The victims were between 17 and 30 years old, he added.

Two other local people, who did not want to be identified, corroborated this account in comments to reporters.

Six wounded people in a serious condition were transferred to hospital in the regional capital, Kasserine, they added.

Another witness, who also asked not to be named, said there had been clashes overnight on Saturday in Kasserine itself, during which a 12-year-old child was killed when he was shot in the head.

There had already been unrest in Tala on Friday, with protesters attacking a bank and official buildings, setting them on fire, union leader Sadok Mahmoudi told reporters.

On Saturday, troops were deployed there to protect public buildings, Mahmoudi said. It was the first time they had been used since the start of the recent wave of unrest, Mahmoudi added.

The authorities in Tunisia refused to confirm either the deaths or the latest unrest.

Protests sparked by high youth unemployment that started in the middle of last month have spread from the central town of Sidi Bouzid to other parts of the country.

The protests have mainly been in the country’s interior, which lags behind the more prosperous coastal areas.

On Saturday, Tunisia’s main union, which critics say is close to the government, condemned the authorities for their heavy-handed response to the social unrest.

Several hundred members of the Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) gathered in the capital to observe a minute’s silence for at least five people who have died since protests began last month.

The protesters were surrounded by riot police.

“We support the demands of the people in Sidi Bouzid and interior regions,” UGTT deputy general secretary Abid Brigui said. “The UGTT cannot but be with this region, behind those in need and demanding jobs.”

“It is against nature to condemn this movement, it is not normal to respond with bullets,” Brigui said, urging the government to hold a dialogue with disaffected young people.

The union released a declaration demanding the release of all those in detention and the lifting of security measures that have seen some of the worst-hit towns blockaded.

“The UGTT is making a great about-turn today by joining the aspirations of the people and supporting their socioeconomic and political demands,” opposition economist Mahmoud Ben Romdhane told reporters.

Protests began last month after 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, who sold fruit and vegetables on the street in Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire in a suicide attempt after police confiscated his produce. He died this week.

Before the latest shootings, a total of five people had died since unrest began, two from gunshot wounds and three by suicide, according to an AFP toll.

Civil groups and the opposition say the protests are driven by high unemployment, particularly among well-qualified graduates and high prices of raw materials including food, mirroring similar unrest in Algeria.

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