TUNIS: Police and protesters clashed in the center of the Tunisian capital Wednesday, bringing unrest to the government's doorstep after nearly a month of deadly protests.
The government imposed a night curfew, a highly unusual move in this generally stable North African country where pledges by the president to subdue rioters and create jobs have done little to dissipate public fury over unemployment and corruption.
European governments warned travelers about going to Tunisia, whose safe image and Mediterranean beaches draw millions of mainly European travelers and make tourism the mainstay of the small nation's economy.
After more than three weeks of protests outside Tunis, hundreds of protesters emerged from a souk, or market, in the capital and hurled stones at police at a key intersection. Officers responded with volleys of tear gas, driving the protesters to disperse into adjoining streets.
Stores in the area were shuttered.
It was not immediately clear whether there were any injuries or arrests. Two army vehicles were posted at the intersection, which is right by the French Embassy.
In another neighborhood in central Tunis, hundreds of protesters tried to reach the regional governor's office but were blocked by riot police. And at the main national union headquarters, police surrounded protesters who tried to break out. Tensions also erupted along the edges of the capital.
The clashes broke out soon after the interior minister was fired. The protests erupted in mid-December in an inland town after a young man tried to kill himself. They then hopscotched around the country, as social networks like Facebook spread word of the unrest, circumventing tight control of the media.
Police have repeatedly shot at demonstrators setting fire to buildings and stoning police. The government says 23 people have died but unions and witnesses put the toll at 46 or higher.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced the firing of Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem, and said that most prisoners arrested during the riots are being freed. He said official Ahmed Friaa would replace Kacem.
Ghannouchi also announced the creation of two inquiry commissions to probe “excesses committed during the troubles” and “the question of corruption and faults committed by certain officials,” the statement said.
In a statement carried by the state news agency TAP, Ghannouchi did not give figures on how many people would be freed, but said the government would not be releasing protesters whose guilt has been proven.
Kacem kept his job in a government reshuffle last month, but pressure on Tunisia's leadership has mounted as the protests took a specially violent turn.
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