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Soldiers on the streets as Tunisian violence reaches capital

Reuters

Troops protect embassies and state buildings in Tunis as protesters criticise unemployment, corruption and repression

January 12, 2011

Soldiers have been deployed in the centre of Tunis amid violent unrest that officials say has killed 23 people..

In a Tunisian provincial town that was the scene of some of the worst clashes at the weekend, witnesses said a large crowd had gathered to demand the resignation of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and that police were nowhere to be seen.

Protesters are angry about unemployment, corruption and what they say is a repressive government. Officials claim the protests have been hijacked by a minority of violent extremists who want to undermine Tunisia.

The protests have been continuing for nearly a month and are the worst in the north African country for decades. They are being watched closely in other Arab countries with potential for social unrest.

In the strongest US statement on the violence to date, state department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was "deeply concerned by reports of the use of excessive force by the government of Tunisia".

On the main avenue in the capital two military vehicles were parked opposite the French embassy and two soldiers with weapons were patrolling in the street, a Reuters reporter said.

A short distance from central Tunis two Humveee vehicles were parked at the entrance to the state television headquarters with two armed soldiers in helmets and flak jackets outside.

Late on Tuesday police fired into the air to disperse a crowd ransacking buildings in a Tunis suburb. There were no reports of any casualties.

Officials said the civilian deaths ľ almost all of them in clashes in provincial towns over the weekend ľ came as police fired on rioters in legitimate self-defence.

Two witnesses said that several thousand people had come out on to the streets in Gassrine, about 120 miles from Tunis, to protest against the government and its crackdown on the protests.

People were chanting "Go away Ben Ali," one witness, Mohsen Nasri, told Reuters by telephone.

"There are about 3,000 people here protesting," said a second witness. "There are no police, they have fled to their barracks."



:: Article nr. 73828 sent on 12-jan-2011 17:35 ECT

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