This marked the bloodiest protests in Tunisia in decades. In late 2010,
Tunisia was struck by violent unrest unleashed by economic conditions.
"There is a need [by the government] to save the lives of innocent
citizens and to respect their right to protest peacefully," Tunisian
opposition leader Nejib Chebi said.
Chebi has reported at least 20 killed in the unrest. He said police
opened fire toward the funeral of civilians who had been killed in the
The riots, which also engulfed Gassrine and Regeb, were said to have
been sparked by high unemployment and lack of government programs. Witnesses
said many of those killed had been shot by Tunisian anti-riot police who
opened fire on stone-throwing young men. Police were said to have been
reinforced by military units.
For the first time in decades, the government has acknowledged the riots
and casualties. The government statement said rioters sought to destroy
public buildings, including police stations.
"They [security forces] are doing nothing more than carrying out their
legal and legitimate mission to maintain order and guarantee the safety and
liberty of citizens," the statement said. "What no democratic state will
allow is the resort to violence and the use by certain extremists of
prohibited weapons such as firebombs and the throwing
of stones against people and public and private property."
Unrest has been sweeping North Africa this month. In Algeria, at
least two people were killed and 400 injured in riots over deteriorating
economic conditions. On Jan. 7, the United States summoned Tunisia's
ambassador to express concern over the violence.
"The message has been received," Tunisian Communications Minister Samir
Labidia said. "We are going to review what needs to be reviewed; we are
going to correct what needs to be corrected. But the red line is violence."