UN mission says 219 killed in Tunisia uprising
TUNIS, Tunisia – At least 219 people were killed and 510 injured in the unrest that led to the fall of Tunisia's dictatorial regime, a United Nations mission said Tuesday, as sporadic violence continued to flare around the country.
A gang set fire overnight to a small synagogue, a Jewish leader said, in what appeared to be the first attack on a Jewish institution since the start of the unrest that forced the Muslim North African nation's autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia.
Bakr N'diaye, the head of the mission sent by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the unrest, said his team counted 147 deaths beside the 72 deaths in prison fires and violence linked to the unrest.
The country's caretaker government has said about 78 people lost their lives in the unrest fueled by widespread corruption and repression, but that figure has been contested by the opposition.
Tunisia's rebellion has spread to Egypt, where protesters are calling for the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, as well as to Jordan and Yemen.
Meanwhile, in Tunisia the interim government has been trying to stabilize the country and reassure demonstrators that democratic change is possible — in large part, by removing Ben Ali's old guard from many posts of power.
On Tuesday, 27 high-ranking police and Interior Ministry officials were ordered to retire, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters. Critics had accused them of repression under Ben Ali.
During 23 years in power, Tunisia's ousted president was accused of systematic repression, torture of political prisoners and corruption. Opponents, including proponents of political Islam, were jailed or forced into exile.
Members of the long-outlawed Islamist party Ennahdha formally asked the Interior Ministry to lift the ban Tuesday, said Noureddine Bhiri, a member of the party's delegation.
Amid the rapid changes in Tunisia, scattered unrest has continued. Police in the capital, Tunis, dispersed demonstrators Monday with tear gas and youths sacked several state offices in the central-western town of Kesserine.
A small synagogue in the southern town of El Hamma was set alight overnight and a Torah was burned, said Perez Trabelski, who heads the historic Ghriba synagogue in Djerba. Gangs also damaged four cars belonging to Jews in Djerba, he said. The Muslim nation has a small Jewish community.
"They want us to leave and seed discord between the Jewish and Muslim communities who have long lived in harmony," Trabelsi said in a telephone interview.
The Ghriba synagogue was the target of a deadly terror attack in 2002 that left 21 people dead, including 14 German tourists, in the only major attack in Tunisia by Islamist extremists.
Meanwhile, Tunisian authorities on Tuesday freed a former Guantanamo detainee as part of a promise by the interim government to free all political prisoners, according to attorney Samir Ben Amor.
Abdallah Hajji, 55, was sentenced to eight years in prison after his return in 2007 from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another former Guantanamo detainee was released from a Tunisian prison in June.
The European Union said Monday it plans to impose an asset freeze on Ben Ali and his wife, and promised to help the country move toward full democracy. Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for Ben Ali, accusing him of taking money out of the country illegally.
French prosecutors are probing the Ben Ali family's assets in France. Police said officials seized a private plane belonging to the family that had been stored in a warehouse at Le Bourget airport outside Paris.