- riots - Tunisia - unemployment
Government confirms civilian casualties during unrest
Protests sparked by high youth unemployment and rising food prices escalated further over the weekend in Tunisia leaving at least 14 people dead and several others wounded, the government has confirmed.
REUTERS - Fourteen civilians have been killed in clashes with Tunisian police, official media and the government said, in the worst violence in the country for decades.
The latest incidents, which took place in three towns and were reported on Sunday, were the deadliest in a wave of unrest which has lasted nearly a month.
Those taking part say they are angry at the lack of jobs for young people, but officials say the rioting is the work of a minority of violent extremists.
In the strongest sign to date authorities may be ready to make some concessions, Tunisia's Communications Minister Samir Labidia said in an interview broadcast on al Jazeera television that the government would respond to people's grievances.
He said the government was ready for a dialogue with young people.
"The message has been received," he said. "We are going to review what needs to be reviewed, we are going to correct what needs to be corrected, but the violence is a red line."
The authorities also released a rap singer who was detained last week after recording a song critical of the government, the rapper's family told Reuters.
Police had arrested 22-year-old Hamada Ben-Amor last Thursday in the Mediterranean Sea coast city of Sfax, soon after the online release of his song entitled "President, your people are dying."
"After three difficult days my brother has returned to us safely," the rapper's brother, Hamdi Ben-Amor, said on Sunday, without giving further details.
The government, in statements issued directly or reported by the official TAP news agency, said a total of 14 people had been killed in clashes since Saturday night in the towns of Thala, Gassrine and Rgeb, about 200 km (120 miles) from the capital.
The people who were killed had been armed with petrol bombs, stones and sticks and were attacking public property, the government said. Several police officers had also been wounded, some of them seriously, it said.
"What no democratic state will allow ... is the resort to violence and the use by certain extremists of prohibited weapons such as Molotov cocktails and fire bombs and the throwing of stones against people and public and private property," the government said.
Najib Chebbi, who diplomats say is the most credible leader in Tunisia's weak opposition, said that to avoid more bloodshed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali should order security forces to stop using firearms.
Unrest in the past few days in neighbouring Algeria over unemployment and food prices has killed two people and injured hundreds, officials said. There was no evidence of any link to the Tunisian unrest.
President Ben Ali, in power for more than two decades and re-elected two years ago with nearly 90 percent of the vote, has said the violent protests are unacceptable and could discourage investors and tourists vital to the economy.
The United States has expressed concern about the government's handling of the protests. There has been no public response yet from the European Union, which is Tunisia's biggest trading partner.
Tunisia, a former French colony of about 10 million people, has in the past been praised by Western allies as a model of stability in the Arab world, though some international rights groups accuse it of stifling dissent.
Before this weekend's violence, two people had been killed in the unrest. Another two killed themselves in acts of protest, including one man who set himself on fire last month, triggering the series of riots.