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Tunisia to investigate security forces over killings

/ Source: Reuters

An independent commission set up by Tunisia's new government promised Saturday to investigate the role of security forces in the deaths of dozens of protesters during weeks of anti-government rallies.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says 117 people have been killed since the start of demonstrations a week ago, including 70 people shot dead by live ammunition.

Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa has put the death toll at 78.

The new government, which took over after former President Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in the face of mass protests last week, has promised to investigate the deaths.

"We will ask: who gave permission to those who opened fire?" Taoufik Bouderbala, head of a commission set up last week and tasked with the investigation, told reporters.

"We saw in some cases shots had been directed to the head or to the chest...We will look into the reason those who held guns or knives struck those with empty hands who called for bread and freedom...We will accuse no one. We will check the facts."

During the uprising, security forces fired on the crowds and beat protestors with batons, according to witnesses.

The new government has been under pressure to weed its ranks of Ben Ali's loyalists, and there has been no sign of let-up in mass street protests in the capital Tunis.

Yadh Ben Achour, head of another commission charged with political reform, said his team would revise legislation, including election laws, over the next year to help bring more democratic change.

"This commission's main mission is to revise all the laws that the old regime ruled through," he said. "The regime ruled not through individuals but through laws it used to assassinate rights. ... The law was used to serve tyranny."

Abdelatif Amor, head of a separate commission tasked with examining corruption during Ben Ali's rule, urged Tunisians to preserve legal documents from the previous government and come forward to help his team investigate possible crimes.

"This issue.... involves breaking up a system of many parts that has infiltrated the Tunisian state and important parts of Tunisian society," he said.

Many Tunisians however are sceptical the three commissions would be allowed to work independently or that they would succeed in tracking down the assets of Ben Ali and his family.

Ordinary people complain that corruption was rife at every level under Ben Ali, from low-ranking official demanding bribes for day to day services, to higher-profile cases at the top.