TUNIS, Tunisia, (AP) – Tunisia’s prime minister said Wednesday that the interior minister has been fired after protest violence that has killed at least 23 people and left the country’s leadership struggling to keep the country under control.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi also announced that most prisoners arrested during nearly a month of riots are being freed. He said the release did not apply to those whose guilt has been proven, without elaborating.
The prime minister announced the appointment of a new interior minister, Ahmed Friaa.
Despair over Tunisia’s soaring unemployment and corruption has fueled the protests, which pose the most significant challenge yet to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The 74-year-old leader grabbed power 23 years ago in a bloodless coup.
The government has said 23 people have died in the protests around the country during which police repeatedly shot at demonstrators setting fire to buildings and stoning police.
Unions and witnesses say at least 46 have died in the unrest.
Social networks like Facebook have helped spread word of the protests in a country where the media are tightly controlled and little dissent is allowed.
The protests began in towns in the center of the country, far from the Mediterranean beaches popular with European tourists. But they have been spreading, and riots were reported late Tuesday in the Ettadhamoun neighborhood five kilometers (three miles) west of Tunis — the first time the violence has reached so near the capital.