Tunisian President criticises rioters, urges calm

Tunisia`s President has warned that rioters will be firmly punished after unusually violent demonstrations over unemployment.

Last Updated: Dec 29, 2010, 10:44 AM IST

Tunis: Tunisia`s President has
warned that rioters will be firmly punished after unusually
violent demonstrations over unemployment. At least two
protesters have died, one shot by police.

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali yesterday promised new
measures to create jobs and sought to restore calm to a
Mediterranean nation that is popular among European tourists,
accusing rioters of hurting Tunisia`s image.

Ben Ali`s government tolerates little public dissent
and has been caught off guard by days of discontent. A US
diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks calls Tunisia a "police
state" and "troubled" and says Ben Ali has lost touch with his
people after 23 years in power.

The president met the families of the dead protesters
yesterday, as well as a hospitalised youth whose attempt to
set himself on fire in the central town of Sidi Bouzid sparked
10 days of demonstrations there and elsewhere in Tunisia.

"The law will be applied in all firmness" to punish "a
minority of extremists and mercenaries who resort to violence
and disorder," Ben Ali said in a televised address, his first
public statement on the unrest.

The rioters "harm the country and give it a false
image," he said. He accused unnamed political parties of
fuelling the unrest and using it for political ends.

Police opened fire on one protest, killing an
18-year-old. In another protest, an unemployed youth
electrocuted himself on an electricity pylon, according to
union officials. Demonstrators set police cars ablaze and
threw firebombs at official buildings.

Protests in support of the Sidi Bouzid actions were
reported Sunday in numerous towns outside the capital,
including in Kairouan and Ben Guerdane, near the border with
Libya. On Monday, police and demonstrators scuffled briefly in
a rally in the capital Tunis calling for jobs.

Ben Ali acknowledged the difficulties for Tunisia`s
unemployed, and pledged to "respect freedom of opinion and
expression." Human rights groups routinely criticise Tunisia
for abuses including a lack of media freedom.

PTI