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11 December 2023

At least four killed in Tunisia unrest: witnesses


At least four people were shot dead and six others seriously wounded late Saturday when security forces clashed with protesters at a demonstration in central Tunisia, witnesses said.

If confirmed, the latest violence would bring to nine the number of people who have died in the recent wave of unrest in Tunisia.

Teacher and union activist Belgacem Sayhi said the victims were killed when the security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Tala, in the centre-west region of Kasserine. The victims were between 17 and 30 years old, he added.

Two other local people, who did not want to be identified, corroborated this account in comments to AFP.

Those wounded included six in a serious condition who had been transferred to hospital in the regional capital, Kasrine, they added.

Another witness, who also asked not to be named, said there had been clashes overnight Saturday in Kasserine itselfse, during which a 12-year-old child was killed when he was shot in the head.

There had already been unrest in Tala on Friday, with protesters attacking a bank and official buildings, setting them on fire, union leader Sadok Mahmoudi told AFP.

On Saturday, troops were deployed there to protect public buildings, said Mahmoudi. It was the first time they had been used since the start of the recent wave of unrest, Mahmoudi added.

The authorities in Tunisia refused to confirm either the deaths or the latest unrest.

Protests sparked by high youth unemployment which started in mid-December have spread from the central town of Sidi Bouzid to other parts of the country.

The protests have mainly been in the north African country's interior, which lags behind the more prosperous coastal areas.

On Saturday, Tunisia's main union, which critics say is close to the government, condemned the authorities for their heavy-handed response to the social unrest.

Several hundred members of the Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT) gathered in the capital to observe a minute's silence for at least five people who have died since protests began last month.

The protesters were surrounded by riot police.

"We support the demands of the people in Sidi Bouzid and interior regions," said Abid Brigui, deputy general secretary of the union.

"The UGTT cannot but be with this region, behind those in need and demanding jobs," he added.

"It is against nature to condemn this movement, it is not normal to respond with bullets," Brigui said, urging the government to hold a dialogue with disaffected young people.

The union released a declaration demanding the release of all those in detention and the lifting of security measures that have seen some of the worst-hit towns blockaded.

"The UGTT is making a great about-turn today by joining the aspirations of the people and supporting their socio-economic and political demands," opposition economist Mahmoud Ben Romdhane told AFP.

Protests began last month after 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, who sold fruit and vegetables on the street in Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire in a suicide attempt after police confiscated his produce. He died this week.

Before the latest shootings a total of five people had died since unrest began, two from gunshot wounds and three by suicide, according to an AFP toll.