SILIANA -AFP – More than 250 people were wounded on Wednesday in a second day of clashes between Tunisian security forces and thousands of protesters in a poor southwestern town, a hospital source told AFP.
Medics at the hospital in Siliana said 265 people had been treated for bruises, fractures and cuts, some of them having been hit by birdshot.
Nineteen people were hit in the eye, and some of them transferred to a clinic in Tunis for treatment.
Several thousand protesters had turned out for a second day to call for the resignation of Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi, the governor of Siliana, a poor farming region 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Tunis.
But Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali insisted in a brief television appearance on Wednesday evening that “this governor is not quitting.”
The protesters were also demanding funds to boost economic development and the release of 14 people detained in unrest in April last year.
It was the same sort of economic grievance that fuelled the Arab Spring uprising that toppled veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali early last year.
A correspondent for the TV news channel France 24, David Thomson, and his Tunisian colleague were hit by police fire, he told AFP. They were rushed to hospital but their lives were not in danger.
Tensions were stoked by rumours that some of the protesters had been killed, but hospital and police sources denied any deaths.
The emergency services in Siliana were visibly overwhelmed, as relatives of the victims gathered and vented their anger, an AFP correspondent reported.
“We will burn the town!” shouted a man whose son was among those injured.
Calm returned to the city after nightfall as security forces kept a low profile, with only few police seen on the streets.
Shops were shuttered and protesters set up barricades of burning tyres, while trade unions have called for more demonstrations on Thursday.
A group of young men also cut off the main road to Siliana to prevent the arrival of reinforcements. “We will never allow a policeman to cross here,” said 19-year-old Farid at a checkpoint 15 kilometres (10 miles) from the town.
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche denied a report from the official news agency TAP that all the security forces had been withdrawn from the town.
He was unable to give a casualty toll but said 16 policemen were injured and three police stations set ablaze.
“Police responded to the attacks of demonstrators against the governorate offices” and other official buildings, he told AFP.
Security forces “never attack peaceful demonstrators … The principle is always not to cause any deaths,” he said, questioned about the high number of injured demonstrators.
The protesters had gathered at 0900 GMT in front of the prefecture in Siliana for a second day of strikes and protests over poor living conditions.
“The people of Siliana most affected by poverty will never go down on their knees,” said Nejib Sebti, secretary general of Tunisia’s largest trade union, the UGTT, warning that the protesters were “ready to die for their rights.”
Investment in the Siliana region fell by 44.5 percent from January to October, compared with the same period last year.
Much of Tunisia’s interior suffers from a chronic lack of development, and has seen growing social unrest in the face of rising discontent over the Islamist-led government’s failure to improve living standards.
The governor of Sidi Bouzid, the town in central Tunisia where the uprising began that toppled Ben Ali, was sacked in October after weeks of similar strikes and protests.
Precarious living conditions and widespread unemployment were driving factors behind Ben Ali’s overthrow in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings that have since swept the region.
More than 150 people were wounded on Wednesday in a second day of clashes between Tunisian security forces and thousands of protesters in a poor southwestern town, a hospital source told AFP.
A doctor at the hospital in Siliana said more than 150 people were being treated for different types of injury, with four of them transferred to Tunis.
The emergency services in Siliana, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Tunis, were visibly overwhelmed, as relatives of the victims gathered and vented their anger, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
“We will burn the town!” shouted a man whose son was among those injured.
Several armoured vehicles belonging to the national guard were deployed, while protesters erected barricades in the streets.
By early afternoon the clashes were ongoing, between stone-throwing protesters and police, with thick clouds of tear gas visible in the town.
The interior ministry declined to comment on the unrest.
Tunisia's interior ministry refuses the army's assistance in providing security in a city that witnessed clashes between protesters and police, leaving 300 injured.
The Tunisian army withdrew from Siliana Saturday only hours after entering the flashpoint town following days of intense clashes with protesters, a police official said.
"The army had offered to come and provide security for a few days, but the interior ministry refused," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
His remarks were echoed by two other sources in the police force.
Protesters took to the streets of Siliana this week demanding Governor Ahmed Ezzine Majjoubi's resignation, financial aid, the end of police attacks, and that security reinforcements be ordered out.
The four days of violence left more than 300 people wounded as political instability mounts two years after Tunisia's Arab Spring uprising.
The military entered Siliana Friday, to the cheers of crowds, as the main trade union announced that the army would take over security from the police who have been accused of abuse and violence.
New demonstrations were planned for later Saturday in the impoverished town, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) southwest of Tunis.
In addition, the government announced that talks would take place Saturday with the UGTT trade union in a bid to resolve the crisis.
The authorities said they would not give in to the blackmail of violence, accusing protesters of having attacked the police first, triggering the crisis.
President Moncef Marzouki charged Friday that the government of Islamist Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali was not meeting the expectations of the people. But his leftwing party is a junior partner in the Islamist-led ruling coalition.
Following protests with recent social background in Siliana and escalated in the past few days to reach the limits of claim sack governor We have heard many testimonies speak for the use of security agents using shotguns on demonstrators, cartridges also picked up social networking sites and many media images of people with the people side. Between yesterday and today have been strained atmosphere in Siliana more and escalated confrontations and within the limits of the third hour and a half on the day Wednesday, November 28, 2012 to the Institute of Pacific Rais for eye diseases door Saadoun Tunisia, arrived three ambulances carrying a number of young people infected with injuries scattered mostly in the level of the face and eyes that are all a result of the shotgun cartridges spraying. We were on the spot and talked with one of the injured and an ambulance driver and we have in Alrobertaj you the following: Just referring to Connie I was standing alongside families with residents of Tunis and did not mention the tires and agents Institute Pacific Rais for eye diseases Kony news and and until the arrival of ambulances did not stop me one of the photography, but the security agents and when you're out they trying to initiate ملاحقتي just to see the camera in my hands, but I rushed to cut off the road turn and disappear unattended and missed my ...
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