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Tunisia deploys troops to check unrest in capital as minister gets the sack

The Tunisian government has ordered the deployment of troops to quell civil unrest in the capital, Tunis. Meanwhile, the government has announced the sacking of the country's interior minister.

protesters

Protests have been sparked by unemployment

In the wake of deadly protests around Tunisia, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has removed his interior minister. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced on Wednesday the dismissal of Rafik Belhaj Kacem, who was responsible for the Tunisian police force.

Ghannouchi also announced that all protestors arrested after clashes with police have been released, marking a dramatic government U-turn on the detentions. Ben Ali had earlier accused the demonstrators of committing acts of terrorism.

Earlier Wednesday, troops were deployed to the streets of the Tunisian capital, Tunis, as civil unrest reached the suburbs of the city overnight.

Soldiers were stationed outside important buildings, such as the French Embassy, and patrolled main streets in an attempt to quell any potential flare-up sparked by high unemployment and anger at the long-standing government of President Ben Ali, who has held power since 1987.

Students have been among those taking part in the riots, with the Tunisian government having ordered the indefinite closure of all schools and universities.

Protests had earlier centered on the town of Kasserine, where the Tunisian Interior Ministry said there was "violence, arson [and] people attacking police stations armed with Molotov cocktails and iron bars."

The official death toll from escalating violence in the country now stands at 21.

Demostrator holding up sign

Demonstrators are urging authorities to free those imprisoned during the protests

However, human rights groups say more people have been killed in the clashes, with some claiming the figure is double that of the official toll. The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights said at least 35 people have died in connection with the three days of clashes.

Tunisian Communications Minister Samir Labidi said "figures given by television and agencies which talk about 40 or 50 are totally false." Most of those killed have died in clashes in provincial towns.

International concern

The European Union and United Nations have expressed concern about the growing unrest in Tunisia, as President Ben Ali comes under increased pressure to control the violence.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for restraint and full respect for free expression.

"The secretary-general is concerned about the escalation of violent clashes between security forces and protesters in Tunisia and the resulting deaths and injuries," Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York on Monday.

"[Ban] calls for restraint and urges all parties to seek to resolve differences through dialogue," Nesirky added.

The European Union also called for calm and the respect of "fundamental freedoms."

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for the "immediate release from detention of bloggers, journalists, lawyers and other people who were detained, who were peacefully demonstrating in Tunisia."

Author: Darren Mara, Catherine Bolsover (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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