Tunisia sends in army to quell protests

A Tunisian protester gestures during a demonstration in front of the prefecture of Siliana calling for the resignation of Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi, the town's governor, on 29 November 29 2012. (Photo: AFP - Fethi Belaid)

Published Thursday, November 29, 2012

Army forces were dispatched to rein in protests in the impoverished Tunisian town of Siliana as clashes between security forces and demonstrators continued for a third day, leaving hundreds wounded.

According to an Al-Akhbar correspondent in Tunisia, health officials confirmed that more than 200 people have been wounded so far as demonstrations over lack of jobs turned violent.

Stone-throwing protesters clashed with police using shotguns and tear gas on Tuesday and Wednesday in the central Tunisian town. The army was sent in to replace police forces.

Marches in solidarity with the Siliana protesters have sprouted across the country, including the capital, Tunis, to denounce police violence, Al-Akhbar’s correspondent said.

News channel France 24 reported that its Tunisia correspondent David Thomson and his driver Hamdi Tlili were fired on by riot police in Siliana during clashes Wednesday.

In an interview with Radio Express, Thomson confirmed that he was shot in the back by police officers with birdshots, a type of multiple-projectile ammunition typically used for hunting.

My x-ray, souvenir of Siliana (the white dots= pellets shot by the police)

Thomson also said that he saw several young demonstrators lose their eyesight after being shot with similar bullets. Health sources have confirmed 19 cases of lost eyesight so far during clashes.

Leading trade union UGTT called for a general strike in Siliana, which has been widely observed across the central region, the union said.

The government’s response to the protests has led to numerous comparisons in social media spheres between the current government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda political party, and the deposed authoritarian ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Interior Ministry: Some political parties and syndicates are behind the unrest... same speech as under Ben Ali

A number of Siliana residents have reportedly vowed to walk to the capital 100 kilometers away to make their voices heard.

The demands of the Siliana demonstrators included the resignation of the region’s government appointed governor, Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoub.

In a televised intervention on Wataniya 2, Mahjoub said he would not leave his post.

“I am a civil servant appointed by a legitimate government, and it is up to it to evaluate my performance and judge as to whether I have succeeded or not in my mission,” he said.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali backed Mahjoub, according to news website Kapitalis.

“Let us be clear, there will be no more ‘out!’,” he said, alluding to the symbolic chant during the protests that ousted Ben Ali. “This governor is not moving, even if I need to step down myself.”

(Al-Akhbar, AP, AFP)

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