Trouble in Tunisia: Unrest Reaches Capital City

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A Tunisian demonstrator flashes a victory sign at a rally on January 8, 2011 in Tunis. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

Soldiers and military vehicles have been deployed to central Tunis after unrest spread overnight to Tunisia’s capital city. Police reportedly fired into the air to disperse protesters in Ettadamen, which is just outside the city center.

The show of force in Tunis comes after weeks of violent clashes in the authoritarian North African nation. At least 20 people have been killed so far. The government has said that 21 people have died in the unrest, but union and health officials claim the toll could be as high as 50.

(Read more about recent clashes in Tunisia and Algeria.)

And Tunisia’s government took some internal action Wednesday by sacking the interior minister and appointing Ahmed Friaa instead. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi also announced that most of the arrested prisoners are being freed but said the release didn’t apply to those whose guilt has been proven, without elaborating further.

The demonstrators say that they’re concerned about unemployment and a lack of opportunity for young people. “We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God,” they chanted.

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s ruler since 1987, maintains the protesters are “hostile elements in the pay of foreigners.” In a televised address, he said they’d, “sold their souls to extremism and terrorism and are manipulated from abroad.”

(Read about the threat of terror in North Africa.)

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the State Department, said the United States was “deeply concerned by reports of the use of excessive force by the government of Tunisia.” (Via Reuters)