Last Updated: Wed Dec 29, 2010 07:44 am (KSA) 04:44 am (GMT)

Tunisian leader says violent protest unacceptable


President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali warned on Tuesday that violent protests were unacceptable and would hit jobs and tourism after protests by graduates demanding work and what they called an end to corruption.

Protests are rare in Tunisia, which has been run for 23 years by President Ben Ali and works closely with Western governments to combat al Qaeda militants, but have been gathering force in recent weeks.

The Tunis protest on Monday followed the deadly shooting by police of a jobless graduate in Bouziane, south of Tunis, last Friday. Around 1,000 people took part in the demonstration, called by independent trade union activists.

"The use of violence in the streets by a minority of extremists against the interests of their country is not acceptable," President Ben Ali said in a speech broadcast by Tunisian television, saying justice would prevail.

"It will have a negative impact on creating jobs," the president added. "It will discourage investors and tourists (to visit) which will hit jobs."

Clashes broke out earlier this month in the town of Sidi Bouzid after a man committed suicide in a protest about unemployment. The protests later spread to several neighboring cities such as Sousse, Sfax and Meknassi.

The North African country attracts millions of holiday makers mainly from Europe and Arab countries every year.

Financial focus

Tunisia is a regional focus for financial institutions since it has announced a plan to complete current account convertibility of its dinar currency over the 2010-2012 period.

Tunisian police used batons on Monday to disperse the demonstration in Tunis, the first time a recent spate of protests has reached the capital.
The Tunisian government accused its opponents on Monday of manipulating the clashes at the weekend between police and young people in Sidi Bouzid to discredit the authorities.

Two witnesses told Reuters that rioting resumed late on Monday in Sidi Bouzid. A least one protester was killed during the clashes and several were injured.

Tunisia remains relatively prosperous compared to African peers but several international right groups say its government crushes dissent, an accusation it denies.

Tunisia tighten its grip

Tunisian authorities have suspended four people over the attempted suicide of an unemployed man that sparked days of protests in the north African country, media reports on Tuesday.

A local government leader in Sidi Bouzid and three of his aides have been removed from duty, including a female officer who had a confrontation with 26-year-old Mohammed Bouazizi, the Achourouk daily reported.

The female officer slapped and spat at Bouazizi, who was selling fruit and vegetables on the streets to support his family, Le Temps daily reported.

Bouazizi doused himself with petrol and set himself alight on December 17, sustaining severe burns, triggering days of protests in the region against high youth unemployment.

Bouazizi left the education system in high school and did not have a degree, contrary to reports that he was a graduate, Le Temps reported.

One protestor died in clashes between mostly unemployed youths and government security forces last Friday.

Tunisia has struggled to create jobs for young people, particularly in poorer interior regions such as Sidi Bouzid.

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