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In Tunisia's capital, protesters take to the streets

From Rima Maktabi, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thousands are congregated in Tunis
  • The demonstration is peaceful
  • This comes a day after the president's speech

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) -- A day after the Tunisian president indicated that he wouldn't run again, protesters peacefully took to the streets in tense North African nation's capital to protest his rule.

Thousands of people congregated in front of the Interior Ministry in Tunis, and chanted slogans such as "Get out!" and "Freedom for Tunisia!"

Haykal Maki, a pro-opposition lawyer who was in the throng, said protesters want a "regime change," the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and lawsuits addressing the regime's corruption.

Tunisia has been wracked by angry demonstrations, with citizens protesting high unemployment, alleged corruption, rising prices, limitations on rights, and anger with the government's performance.

The wave of protests was sparked by the suicide of an unemployed college graduate, a man who torched himself in December after police confiscated his fruit cart.

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In an address on national TV on Thursday night, Ben Ali addressed the crisis in a speech that came as street unrest percolated and a message purportedly from an al Qaeda affiliate announced its support of protesters.

He vowed to cut prices of basic foodstuffs, to lift censorship and to ensure police do not use live ammunition except in self-defense, and indicated that he will not run again for president.

"Enough violence," Ben Ali said on national television after days of riots that have killed at least 21 people.

"I also gave orders to the interior minister ... not to use live ammunition. It is unacceptable and unjustified unless someone uses his weapon and forces you to defend yourself."

Ben Ali said he had asked the prime minister to reduce prices of staples, including sugar, milk and bread and said he had decided to give "complete freedom to all media outlets ... as long as they respect our values and the value of the profession."

The 74-year-old president added that he would not push to change the law setting an age limit for presidential candidates in the next election in 2014.

By then, he would have exceeded the 75-year age limit. "There will not be presidency for life," he said.

Organized mainly by the country's lawyers' union mainly and other unions, the crowd on Friday was under the watchful eye of a contingent of riot police officers.

But the protesters freely were not shy about slamming the government and Ben Ali's rule. Demonstrators shouted "Public trial for the president's family!" and "Yes to water and bread, but NO to Ben Ali!"

Reem Ben Yousef, a 37-year-old university professor, told CNN that the protesters say the ruling family have robbed citizens and they want them to depart from public life.

Reem says that Ben Ali's speech was staged and was cynical about the presence of a pro-government demonstration after his speech.

"We do not believe in Ben Ali and his regime," she said.

 
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