The European Union criticised the crackdown on demonstrators in Tunisia, calling the use of force by police disproportionate and unacceptable.
Recent violence in the North African country has claimed the lives of 23 people, according to an official count, though some international human rights groups said the figure is higher.
Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, reiterated EU concerns about the unrest and added:
“This violence is unacceptable. The perpetrators must be identified and brought before the courts.
“And we cannot accept the disproportionate use of force by the police against peaceful demonstrators.”
“The Tunisian authorities should do everything they can to bring calm and to address the underlying social issues.”
Speaking at a regular news briefing, Kocijancic repeated a call for the release of bloggers, journalists, lawyers and others detained after taking part in peaceful protests, Reuters reports.
“The authorities must also guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression, of opinion, of association, also the independence of the judiciary,” she said.
Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fired his interior minister on Wednesday and ordered that all those arrested in weeks of clashes with police should be released.
Ben Ali — who just days ago accused the rioters of committing acts of terrorism — made the dramatic change after a deadly wave of violent unrest, the biggest in decades, reached the capital Tunis for the first time.
The violence could complicate negotiations between Tunis and the European Union to extend an existing arrangement for free trade in industrial goods so that it also covers services, agricultural products and processed food. All of these are major Tunisian exports.
Tunisia is also a recipient of hundreds of millions of euros in loans from the European Investment Bank, the EU’s financing arm.
On Tuesday U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was “deeply concerned by reports of the use of excessive force by the government”.