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At least 23 Killed as Tunisian Police Use Live Ammo to Disperse Protesters

January 10, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Africa, Protests with 0 Comments

At least 23 people have been killed by security forces in Tunisia. Police opened fire on protesters in three cities with live ammunition in a desperate attempt to disperse crowds. Deaths have been reported in Thala, Kasserine and Regueb. The demonstrators were protesting high unemployment and poor living conditions in the North African country. All of the dead are protesters; more than 30 police officers have also been injured.

The protests began last month when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed college graduate, committed suicide by setting himself on fire in front of a government building in the town of Sidi Bouzid. Police confiscated the fruit cart that was Bouazizi’s livelihood, saying he didn’t have the proper permit to operate it. Although Tunisia provides free universal university education to citizens, the country is suffering from 14% unemployment, and the jobless rate for the nation’s college graduates is a staggering 25%.

The Tunisian government claims police acted in self-defense after public buildings were attacked during the demonstrations. “These violent, sometimes bloody events, which caused deaths among civilians and injuries among security officers, were perpetrated by hooded gangs that attacked, at night, public institutions and even citizens in their houses,” claimed Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. “This is an intolerable act of terrorism.”

While President Ben Ali enjoys warm relations with the United States and other Western powers, his 23-year rule has been characterized by police-state corruption and human rights violations. Journalists and bloggers are routinely arrested and sometimes disappear. At least three bloggers, Hamadi Kloucha, Slim Amamou and Azyz Amamy have been arrested during the current upheaval. Hamada Ben-Amor, a popular rapper known as “El General,” was arrested but released on Sunday.

Ben Ali has promised to create up to 300,000 new jobs and vowed to invest $5 billion in impoverished areas as well as liberalize the country’s mass media, but critics are extremely skeptical. “Tunisians must be allowed to express their grievances and freely protest,” a statement from Amnesty International said. “The authorities made empty promises of work opportunities which were followed by a crackdown on protesters.”

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