Ben Ali calls violence in Tunisia a result of terrorists, but changes his assessment three days later

In a speech to the nation President Ben Ali said on the 11th of January:

Violent incidents, sometimes bloody, which have killed civilians and caused injuries to several officers of the security forces, have been perpetrated by hooded gangs who have attacked during the night, to public institutions and even assaulted citizens at home, in a terrorist act that cannot be tolerated.

Incidents [were] committed at the instigation of parties who have not hesitated to engage our children among the students and unemployed youth. These parties, which incite violence and going out into the street, spreading hollow slogans of despair and fabricating, from scratch, misleading and erroneous information, have dishonestly exploited an incident that we all regret and a state of understandable despondency occurring in Sidi Bouzid, for two weeks.

These incidents are the work of a small group of hostile elements who are offended by the success of Tunisia and who are are filled with resentment and grievance, because of the progress and development achieved by the country, as evidenced by the reports of institutions and international and UN organisations known for their objectivity and impartiality.

These ill-intentioned elements have used the issue of unemployment, exploiting an isolated act of desperation, as happens in all societies and in many situations.

In his speech of yesterday no references to terrorist acts or elements were made anymore, which makes one wonder how easily people are being labelled as ‘terrorists’ in Tunisia. In this speech the President denounced the “acts of violence which were perpetrated by small groups who do not hesitate to rob and assault people. These are crimes, and not acts of protests. The President gave “directives’ to the Minister of Interior in which he orders them to stop ‘using real bullets’ to shoot at the protestors, unless somebody ‘tries to snatch a gun from you [=a police man], or attacks you with a gun or another weapon, and you are forced to defend yourself’. He also vowed not to seek re-election in 2014, and to introduce more press freedom in Tunisian society, allowing opposition figures onto television and lifting bans on formerly censored websites such as YouTube.

What President Ben Ali didn’t promise was an inquiry into the shootings of innocent civilians by the police. The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rightshas tallied 66 deaths since the protests began, and sources told Al Jazeera on Thursday that at least 13 people had been killed in the past two days alone. The death toll includes seven people who committed suicide in protest over unemployment and economic hardships. The rest were reportedly killed by the Tunisian security forces.

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