Union officials say 11 dead in Tunisia rioting



Union officials say 11 dead in Tunisia rioting Tunis: Union officials in three Tunisian towns say at least 11 people have died in clashes with security forces in new rioting in the North African country where unrest is in its fourth week.

The Interior Ministry has confirmed that at least two people died in the western town of Thala. Union official Belgacem Saihi said that up to five people had died there.

In nearby Kasserine, union official Amor Mhamdi said three people were shot to death Saturday night as protesters attacked public buildings.

Kamel Laabidi, a union official in Regueb, reported three people killed there.

Regueb is near Sidi Bouzaid, the central-western town where riots over joblessness started Dec. 17.

Two demonstrators have previously been shot to death by police.

The authorities in Tunisia refused to confirm either the deaths or the latest unrest.

Protests sparked by high youth unemployment which started in mid-December have spread from the central town of Sidi Bouzid to other parts of the country.

The protests have mainly been in the north African country's interior, which lags behind the more prosperous coastal areas.

On Saturday, Tunisia's main union, which critics say is close to the government, condemned the authorities for their heavy-handed response to the social unrest.

Several hundred members of the Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT) gathered in the capital to observe a minute's silence for at least five people who have died since protests began last month.

The protesters were surrounded by riot police.

"We support the demands of the people in Sidi Bouzid and interior regions," said Abid Brigui, deputy general secretary of the union.

"The UGTT cannot but be with this region, behind those in need and demanding jobs," he added.

"It is against nature to condemn this movement, it is not normal to respond with bullets," Brigui said, urging the government to hold a dialogue with disaffected young people.

The union released a declaration demanding the release of all those in detention and the lifting of security measures that have seen some of the worst-hit towns blockaded.

Protests began last month after 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, who sold fruit and vegetables on the street in Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire in a suicide attempt after police confiscated his produce. He died this week.

Before the latest shootings a total of five people had died since unrest began, two from gunshot wounds and three by suicide, according to a toll.

Bureau Report