Last Updated: Thu Jan 13, 2011 23:03 pm (KSA) 20:03 pm (GMT)

Parliament urges troops deploying amid Tunisia riots


The Tunisian parliament on Thursday called for the deployment of military troops nationwide as more protesters have been killed in the capital riots over high prices and high rates of unemployment.

The U.S. State Department advised U.S. citizens to put off non-essential travel to Tunisia, citing the "intensifying political and social unrest" in the North African country.

"The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the intensifying political and social unrest in Tunisia and recommends deferring non-essential travel to Tunisia at this time," the State Department said in a travel alert.

Sacking top advisers

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali sacked top advisers earlier on Thursday amid continued riots in the capital and other parts of the country that left about 66 people killed, according to a tally by International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The Tunisian president fired his close advisers Abdelwahab Abdallah and Abdelaziz Ben Dhia following a night of heavy clashes in the capital Tunis despite a curfew aimed at bringing a halt to the north African country’s worst unrest in decades.

Eight more protesters died overnight in clashes on the outskirts of the capital Tunis, FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen said in Paris, branding the government crackdown on political protests an "ongoing massacre."

The overnight clashes also left number of government buildings and vehicles torched, witnessed said, adding that security services have purposely set some public facilities on fire.

Black smoke could be seen billowing in the distance and people were covering their mouths against the fumes, while police blocked off the area.

Worst unrest in decades

The latest clashes were taking place a short distance from the central bank building in the city's main commercial area, which also houses the main bus and tram station.

Overnight, crowds defied a curfew aimed at bringing a halt to the north African country's worst unrest in decades.

In the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, where the unrest started nearly a month ago, witnesses said several thousand people had marched through the streets chanting anti-government slogans.

People taking part in the unrest say they are angry about unemployment, corruption and what they say is government repression. Officials say the protests have been hijacked by a minority of violent extremists who want to undermine Tunisia.

The latest official count for the number of civilians killed in the unrest is 23. But witnesses told Reuters on Wednesday another five had been killed, while the United Nations said rights groups put the toll at almost 40.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the deaths were "a result of some excessive measures used, such as snipers (and) the indiscriminate killing of peaceful protesters".

The government says police have only fired in self-defense when rioters attacked with petrol bombs and sticks. It also says death tolls from rights groups are inflated.

The unrest is the biggest challenge to President Ben Ali since he took office 23 years ago. On Wednesday he sacked his interior minister and ordered the release of arrested rioters.

Sidi Bouzid was the origin

A night curfew for Tunis and suburbs began at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Wednesday, the first time it had come into operation.

But for several hours after that, crowds in at least two neighborhoods of the city threw stones at police and ransacked buildings, Reuters reporters at the scene and witnesses said.

Sidi Bouzid was where the unrest -- initially focused on youth unemployment -- started in December when a jobless local man set fire to himself in protest at his treatment by the authorities. The man later died.

Several witnesses told Reuters by telephone that between 7,000 and 10,000 people were marching through the streets.

Tunisia has come under international pressure over its handling of the protests from the United States and the European Union, its biggest trading partner.

Some analysts say the Tunisian government is likely to be able to contain the unrest, but that in the longer term Ben Ali could find himself weakened and his opponents emboldened.

The protests are being watched closely in other countries in the Arab world with the potential for social unrest, especially after rises in world food prices.

Financial markets have also been alarmed by the unrest in Tunisia, one of the region's most open economies, which has been attracting steady interest from foreign investors.

Tourism, which accounted for 11 percent of Tunisia's hard currency earnings last year, may be especially vulnerable to the unrest. On Thursday the Netherlands issued a statement advising against all non-essential travel to Tunisia.

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