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Monday, January 10, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

North African economic woes spread to Tunisia

CAIRO — The economic unrest sweeping through North Africa has reached Tunisia.


Tunisians clashed with riot police in several cities in the North African state. Reports said up to 20 people were killed in Thala, about 200 kilometers southwest of Tunis, while the government eventually acknowledged 14 dead.

"The police opened fire in legitimate self-defense and this led to two dead and eight wounded, as well as several wounded among police, three of them seriously," a Tunisian government statement said on Jan. 9.

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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 protests.

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."

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