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Tunisia protests: President sacks interior minister
LONDON, JAN 12 (Agencies):
Published on 12 Jan. 2011 9:17 PM IST
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Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has dismissed his interior minister and ordered the release of all of those detained during the recent unrest.
He has also created a special committee to investigate corruption and the actions of some officials, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has said.
Ahmed Friaa will replace Rafik Belhaj Kacem at the interior ministry.
Earlier, troops were deployed in the capital after fresh protests about unemployment and poverty in a suburb.
Human rights activists, meanwhile, said a strike had been called in Kasserine, a region at the centre of the unrest.
Officials say 21 people have been killed since the protests began in the south of the country in mid-December, but human rights and trade union activists believe the number of dead to be at least 50.
People taking part in the demonstrations say they are angry about unemployment, poverty, corruption and government repression.
President Ben Ali has said the riots are a “terrorist act” orchestrated by foreign forces to damage Tunisia.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Ghannouchi revealed that the president had decided to replace Mr Belhaj Kacem, who was responsible for the much-criticised police force.
“He has announced the creation of a committee of investigation into corruption and to assess the mistakes of certain officials,” said Mr Ghannouchi. “The president has decided to free all those arrested in the riots.”
Troops were deployed in Tunis on Wednesday morning for the first time since the civil unrest erupted last year.
Armoured vehicles and soldiers armed with automatic weapons were seen patrolling the city’s main avenues and taking up positions outside key buildings, including the state television headquarters.
The show of force came after hundreds of youths ransacked shops, set fire to a bank and tried to attack a government building in Ettadamen on Tuesday night.
Demonstrations are rare in Tunisia, where there are tight controls aimed at preventing dissent Police fired into the air and launched tear gas to disperse them. There were no reports of any casualties from the clashes.
In Kasserine, a local trade union official told the BBC that all workers were observing a call for a strike on Wednesday. It has not been possible to verify this claim.
Witnesses also told the Reuters news agency that several thousand people had gathered in the region’s capital, Kasserine.
People were chanting “Go away, Ben Ali”, said one witness, Mohsen Nasri. Another said local police officers had retreated to their barracks.
In disturbances in the town on Tuesday, residents said a number of protesters had been shot dead by police snipers. The police said they had fired warning shots and only acted in self defence.
The state-owned channel, Tunis TV, also reported that there were “continued riots” in Tozeur on Wednesday. A correspondent said a group of people had set tires on fire on the town’s main road.
Swiss police, meanwhile, are investigating an attempt to set fire to the Tunisian embassy in Berne. The fire failed to ignite and no-one was hurt.
An anti-government protest was also held outside the embassy in Paris.

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