Tunisians ignore curfew as unrest continues in the capital

Tunisian protestors ignored a government-imposed curfew overnight after troops were deployed to quell civil unrest in the capital, Tunis. A Swiss national was reportedly killed in the continuing violence.

Protesters in Tunisia defied an overnight government curfew on the capital, Tunis, as clashes with police continued Thursday. Reports indicated that a Swiss woman and Tunisian man were killed in separate incidents.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry said Thursday a woman with dual Swiss-Tunisian citizenship had been killed by a stray bullet while watching a demonstration in the north of the country late Wednesday.

In the Tunis suburb of Ettadamen, meanwhile, witnesses said a 25-year-old man was killed after being shot in the head during spars with police, marking the first protest-related death in the capital.

The night curfew had been in place from 9 p.m. local time, but for several hours afterwards crowds in at least two neighborhoods of the city threw stones at police and ransacked buildings.

The official death toll from the escalating violence in the country stands at 21, though some news agencies have reported that at least 23 have been killed. However, some human rights groups claimed the figure is double the official toll.

Overnight marches were also held in Sidi Bouzid, where the unrest started nearly a month ago. Several thousand people reportedly marched through the streets of the provincial town shouting anti-government slogans.

The unrest has also spread to the country’s second city, Sfax, as well as the town of Douz, where witnesses said up to four people had earlier been killed in clashes with security forces.

Demonstrators are protesting high unemployment rates in the country, as well as what they say is the increasingly repressive government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power for more than 20 years.

Scrambling government

In an attempt to defuse the tension, Ben Ali on Wednesday removed his interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, who was responsible for the Tunisian police force.

The prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, also announced that all protestors arrested after clashes with police had been released, marking a dramatic government U-turn on the detentions. Ben Ali had earlier accused the demonstrators of committing acts of terrorism.

But the conciliatory moves seem to have come too late to pacify the demonstrators, who are protesting against high unemployment.

Students have been among those taking part in the riots, with the Tunisian government having ordered the indefinite closure of all schools and universities.

For the first time during the current unrest, a politician was detained Wednesday. Hamma Hammami, the leader of the banned Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party, was arrested at his home near Tunis after his party called on the people to form an alternative government.

The United Nations has called for an independent investigation into allegations of excessive use of force.

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