x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Curfew in Tunis as 3 more die in riots

The interior minister is fired as street protests over unemployment grow.

SIDI BOUZID, TUNISIA // Tunisia imposed an 8pm-6am curfew on its capital yesterday as three more protesters died in riots over unemployment and food prices.

The renewed violence in Tunis erupted after hundreds of demonstrators emerged from a souq and hurled stones at police. Officers responded with volleys of tear gas, driving the protesters to disperse into adjoining streets.

The unrest spread south with protests for the first time in the town of Douz, 550km south of the capital. Two people were killed in police gunfire. There were also fresh clashes in the central-western town of Thala, the scene of earlier violence. A protester was shot dead and two others wounded in gunfire in the town, about 250km southwest of the capital.

The three deaths bring the total in three weeks of protests and demonstrations to at least 24.

Earlier yesterday the Tunisian prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced that the interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, had been dismissed, and that most of the prisoners arrested during previous riots were being freed.

European governments warned travellers about going to Tunisia, a popular holiday resort for mainly European visitors.

The unrest began almost a month ago when an unemployed university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, set fire to himself in the central town of Sidi Bouzid after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling.

The suicide triggered a wave of protests that tapped into resentment over high unemployment. Residents of Sidi Bouzid say they have been inspired by Mr Bouazzi to demand more rights from their local government, which they claim is rife with corruption.

"He was my soul, my life, my heart," said Mr Bouzid's mother, Mannoubia Bouazizi. "Now he's a symbol."