Police use tear gas against protests in Tunisia

November 24, 2011 - 7:35 AM
Tunisia New Assembly

Veteran rights activist Moncef Marzouki holds the Muslim holy book after being elected new interim president as Tunisia's newly elected assembly holds its inaugural meeting Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 in Tunis, ready to start shaping the constitution and the democratic future of the country that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. A moderate Islamist party, Ennahda (Renaissance), won the most seats in the Constituent Assembly, and it has announced a coalition with a liberal and left-of-center party to make up the interim government. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Violent demonstrations erupted in Tunisia's impoverished central region and had to be dispersed with tear gas, according to local officials and the state news agency.

A peaceful demonstration in the town of Kasserine over the exclusion of local residents from a list of those killed in last year's uprising against the dictatorship turned violent late Wednesday as protesters clashed with police and military.

Demonstrators attempted to set fire to the local prison, rob a bank and loot the local branch of a government agency. They also set fire to tires and vandalized local businesses, said the state news agency.

Police responded with warning shots and tear gas to disperse the estimate thousands of protesters. The regional Kasserine hospital reported treating 76 cases of tear gas inhalation.

The Interior Ministry also reported unrest in the nearby towns of Thala and Feriana.

Tunisia held this week the inaugural sessions of its newly elected assembly charged with writing the fledgling democracy's new constitution.

A list of those who died in the December and January uprising that kicked out dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was read out in the assembly, but apparently mentioned only seven of the 23 that perished in Kasserine.

The uprising that sparked region-wide pro-democracy movements now called the Arab Spring had its start in Tunisia's impoverished interior, with some of the fiercest battles taking place in Kasserine.

Almost a year since the revolution, however, the area maintains it has seen little improvement and remains neglected in favor of the more affluent coast.

Just prior to the Oct. 25 elections, local residents told The Associated Press that if conditions did not soon improve there would be further uprisings.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the newly elected head of the constitutional assembly and future president Moncef Marzouki appeared on television to apologize for the omission and ease tensions.

The two leaders said the list was prepared in good faith and the omission unintentional. They added that "moral and material compensation for the martyrs was a top priority."

Tunisia's economy, which normally is comparatively prosperous for the region, has been hard hit by the drop in tourism and investment accompanying the Arab uprisings.

Violence also erupted late Wednesday south of Kasserine in the industrial region of Gafsa, the heart of Tunisia's phosphate mining industry, the state news agency reported.

Local youths rioted in two towns after the announcement of the results of the phosphate company's recruitment exam and attacked police stations, government buildings and company premises.

A curfew between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time was declared Thursday.