Gunshots heard in centre of Tunis - witnesses

  • World
  • Tuesday, 08 Feb 2011

TUNIS (Reuters) - Gunshots were fired in the centre of the Tunisian capital on Tuesday, people in the area said, in a further blow to faltering efforts to restore security after the overthrow of the autocratic president.

Three witnesses told Reuters they heard shooting coming from streets near Avenue Bourguiba, the main thoroughfare in Tunis, but none could see who was responsible.

"I heard sporadic gunfire," one of the witnesses, who was near the Tunis city government building, told Reuters.

Security had seemed to be slowly returning to Tunisia three weeks after a wave of protests forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for 23 years, to flee to Saudi Arabia.

But in the past few days violence has flared up again, with at least five people killed since Friday in clashes between police and protesters in provincial towns.

The gunshots on Tuesday were the first time shooting had been heard in the capital for at least two weeks.

The defence ministry ordered army reservists on Monday to report for duty so they could reinforce overstretched police and soldiers trying to keep order.


Tunisia's uprising against Ben Ali's authoritarian rule inspired protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world, notably in Egypt, and its halting progress towards stability is being watched closely in the region.

The European Union, Tunisia's biggest trading partner and a major donor of development aid, said it was putting together an assistance package at the request of the Tunisian authorities.

"The aim of that process is to address first of all the short-term needs of the transition process in Tunisia," European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told reporters on a visit to the Moroccan capital Rabat.

In a further show of international support, Britain's foreign minister had talks with Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, becoming the most senior Western official to visit since Ben Ali's ouster.

"I think Tunisia is starting to move on from a profound crisis," the minister, William Hague, told a news conference.

"We are witnessing a moment of opportunity here in Tunisia and in many other countries, an opportunity which should be seized rather than feared."

But in a sign that turmoil had spread to the Tunisian leadership, Hague did not meet his opposite number Ahmed Ounaiss because he is embroiled in a dispute over his future.

Workers at the Tunisian Foreign Ministry were on strike for a second day to demand that Ounaiss step down over comments which many Tunisians felt served to show he did not fully support the country's change of ruler.

A source at the ministry, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that Ounaiss did not meet Hague because of internal problems in the ministry.

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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