2 killed in new Tunisian violence

AP News
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Posted: Mar 11, 2011 3:29 PM
2 killed in new Tunisian violence

Clashes between police and protesters in a Tunisian mining town killed two people Friday and injured 20, in a new outburst of violence in a country struggling for stability after a revolution that rocked the Arab world.

The deadly protest came as a member of the deposed president's much-hated family was sentenced to prison on Friday, amid efforts by Tunisia's interim authorities to further distance themselves from the former regime.

Weeks of deadly protests drove out President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. Violence has largely subsided, but discontent remains.

The Interior Ministry said police fired tear gas and demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs at the protest in the town of Metlaoui in central Tunisia.

The ministry said on its Facebook page two people were killed and 20 injured. It said they were shot from hunting rifles, not police weapons, but did not elaborate.

State news agency TAP reported that the protests started after rumors emerged that the regional phosphate mining company, CPG, was secretly recruiting in a specific tribal area instead of opening its jobs to the entire local population. Local authorities insisted the rumors were unfounded, but about 1,000 people still turned out to protest.

CPG is the region's biggest employer. Unemployment was a central complaint of the protesters who drove out Ben Ali.

Also Friday, a Tunis court sentenced a brother-in-law of Ben Ali to two months in prison for deceiving customs authorities, and also fined him 45 million dinars ($32 million). It's the first conviction to hit the ousted president's entourage.

TAP said Mohamed Naceur Trabelsi, who has remained in Tunisia, was convicted of two customs infractions linked to his clothing business. He is a brother of former first lady Leila Trabelsi, whose family monopolized several industries and was deeply resented by many Tunisians and accused of widespread corruption.

Meanwhile, Tunisia's caretaker government is struggling to build new political institutions to replace bodies dominated by Ben Ali and his recently dissolved RCD party, including the two houses of parliament.

An administrative court on Friday froze all bonuses and perks for parliament members, based on a complaint by an activist lawyer who wants to ensure that legislators from the Ben Ali era aren't benefiting from taxpayer largesse.

Tunisia's parliament has been effectively frozen since Ben Ali left and the parliament speaker, Fouad Mebazaa, became interim president and was given the power to rule by decree.

Elections have been set for July 24 for a body that will devise a new constitution, a step toward new legislative and presidential elections.