Wed, Feb 02, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UNREST IN NORTH AFRICA: Armed gangs go on the rampage in Tunisia

Reuters and AP, TUNIS

Gangs armed with knives and sticks roamed the streets of the central Tunisian town of Gessrine on Monday, attacking government buildings and threatening residents, witnesses and the state news agency said.

The gangs set fire to a youth center and attacked a number of other buildings in Gessrine, the TAP agency reported.

A strike meant police were not on the streets on Monday and the army has struggled to restore order in Gessrine, which was badly hit by violent protests before former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on Jan. 14. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

Union leader Chokri Hayouni said local citizen committees formed to boost security there had caught two people who claimed they had been paid by members of Ben Ali’s former ruling party to stir up new disorder.

Weeks of popular protests forced Ben Ali to flee, ending 23 years of police rule, but demonstrations continue because many Tunisians feel that the interim government retained too many symbols of the old regime.

Large-scale street protests have begun to dry up in recent days after a reshuffle purged the interim government of most of the old guard, but police in the capital, Tunis, dispersed demonstrators on Monday with tear gas.

In other developments, the EU said on Monday it plans to impose an asset freeze on Ben Ali and his wife.

The 27 EU foreign ministers said at their monthly meeting that they would also do their utmost to help Tunisia move toward full democracy.

The EU said in Brussels that in coordination with Tunisian authorities it “has adopted restrictive measures against individuals responsible for misappropriation of state funds.” Swiss prosecutors said on Sunday they have launched a money laundering investigation into accounts belonging to Ben Ali and his family.

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