Police, protesters clash in Tunisia

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Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters clashed with police in a provincial Tunisian town after authorities bulldozed an unlicensed cigarette kiosk, killing its owner, witnesses said.

Street protests are frequent in Tunisia, where a popular uprising toppled autocratic rule nearly a decade ago and ushered in democracy but little economic progress, with living standards for many still low, unemployment high and corruption rife.

In Sbeitla, the site of an ancient Roman city in Tunisia’s hilly, impoverished interior, residents blocked roads with burning tyres and threw stones at police, who chased them, witnesses said.

Soldiers were then deployed to protect government buildings.

Local officials and witnesses said a cigarette vendor was sleeping in his kiosk in Tuesday’s pre-dawn hours when municipal police with a bulldozer flattened the structure, killing him.

After the death was confirmed by local authorities, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi dismissed the governor of Kasserine province, where Sbeitla is and three local security officials in an effort to defuse local anger.

The overnight bulldozing of the kiosk inflamed the nearby community where many long complained about police heavy-handedness in dealing with poor, marginalised people.

Sbeitla is near some of Tunisia’s most deprived cities including Sidi Bouzid, where the 2011 revolution began after a street vendor immolated himself in protest at harassment and confiscations of his wares by police.