219 died in Tunisian protests, says UN


Tunis/Paris : At least 219 people died during and in the immediate aftermath of Tunisia’s month-long uprising, which culminated in the ouster of autocratic leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the UN said Tuesday.

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The figure given by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, the head of a visiting UN human rights team, includes 72 people who died during prison riots that erupted directly after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia Jan 14.

It contrasts with the death toll communicated by the country’s transitional government, which had said 78 people died. The government figure had not included the prison dead.

Ndiaye stressed the UN figure was a provisional figure.

The UN has spent the past week assessing the toll of the protests, which began in the centre of the country over unemployment and rising prices and gradually swelled into a all-out uprising.

The bulk of the dead were unarmed protesters, many of whom were shot by police.

A government of national unity has been appointed to manage Tunisia’s transition from a police state to a democracy.

Its main task is to organize presidential and parliamentary elections by mid-July.

The new government is also investigating corruption during Ben Ali’s 23 years in power.

An international warrant for the arrest of Ben Ali and six family members on charges of property theft and the illegal transfer of foreign currency.

The European Union has frozen the assets of the ousted leader, his family and his allies.

French media reported Tuesday that authorities had seized a private plane belonging to a relative of Ben Ali’s at Bourget airport near Paris.

Meanwhile, the head of the Jewish community on the Tunisian island of Djerba said a synagogue in the city of Gabes, about 500 km south of the capital Tunis, had been torched Monday evening.

It was not clear whether the incident was related to ongoing but increasingly isolated protests over the new government.

The protests are targeted mainly at Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, who was reappointed premier despite having served under the autocratic Ben Ali.

Ghannouchi has assured he will step down after the elections.