Tunisian leader fears that clashes could spread
The army moved into a southwestern Tunisian town, an official and witnesses said Friday, the fourth day of protests that have injured more than 300 people.
President Moncef Marzouki said on television that the North African country's government has not "met the expectations of the people" and asked that a new one, smaller and specialized to deal with the unrest, be formed. The current government has about 80 members.
"Tunisia today is at a crossroads," Marzouki said.
Several Tunisian radio stations said the army had moved into Siliana. An official close to Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, said the army will replace police in Siliani. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named. No official announcement was made, but eye witnesses corroborated the information, saying that several army trucks and other vehicles moved in.
Up to 10,000 people marched Friday to demand more jobs, government investment and the resignation of the local governor, but the peaceful protest degenerated into clashes with police. Still, the confrontation was far less serious than a day earlier, when the army was brought in briefly to quell protests.
The local hospital says more than 300 people have been injured after days of clashes.
The president expressed concern that the unrest in Siliana could spread to other regions in Tunisia's interior.
Unrest in the poor regions outside the capital of Tunis has particular resonance here. An educated but jobless man selling vegetables in another neglected town triggered protests after he burned himself to death that toppled autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. That in turn set off what is now known as the Arab Spring.
"Tunisia today has an opportunity that it must not miss to be a model because the world is watching us and we mustn't disappoint," Marzouki said.
The Tunisian president's ability to bring change is minimal. The prime minister is the determining force in the power structure. Marzouki, who has clashed with Jebali in the past, said new elections should be held "as soon as possible."
There was no immediate comment from the prime minister's office.