Security forces clash with protesters in Tunisian capital

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Tunis, Feb 26 (AFP) Security forces fired warningshots and tear gas, and protesters responded by hurling stonesas clashes erupted today during a demonstration in theTunisian capital, AFP reporters said.

A loud blast was heard at about 5:00 pm local time(1600 GMT) but its cause was not immediately clear. Automaticweapons fire could also be heard.

Riot police and masked police in civilian clotheschased protesters through the streets after about 300demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans gathered for afresh protest outside the interior ministry.

Clashes between police and protesters at the samelocation yesterday left 21 police officers injured and threepolice stations damaged, the ministry said earlier.

Police made several arrests during today''s unrest,which also saw protesters tearing up billboards and citybenches in an attempt to block police vehicles.

Soldiers had arrived at the scene to back up police.

Tens of thousands of protesters had taken to thestreets on Friday demanding the resignation of the country''sinterim prime minister, who was part of the regime of oustedpresident Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The interior ministry said in a statement that threepolice stations had been partially burned or ransacked duringFriday''s clashes.

Blaming Friday''s unrest on young people and students,the ministry said in a statement: "We call on parents todiscourage their children from participating in this type ofdemonstration, to encourage them to return to classes and todo everything to avoid that they serve as human shields forgroups of trouble-makers."In response to growing protests, Prime MinisterMohamed Ghannouchi''s government announced Friday that it willhold elections by mid-July.

On Friday an estimated 100,000 protesters marched downthe capital''s main avenue shouting "Ghannouchi Leave" and"Revolution Until Victory."It was the biggest of several rallies against thetransitional authority since the fall of long-time ruler BenAli on January 14 following weeks of demonstrations.

One protester, a 22-year-old man, was hurt when policefired dozens of warning shots to prevent demonstratorsattempting to climb into the interior ministry through itswindows, a witness told AFP.

Ghannouchi''s caretaker government, established onJanuary 17 and tasked with leading Tunisia to elections, hasfaced regular protests demanding it root out vestiges of theold regime. (AFP)

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