Union HQ stormed after deadly unemployment protests in Tunisia

The TUC has protested to the Tunisian Embassy and asked the UK's Foreign Secretary William Hague to press the Tunisian government not just to respect the right to protest, but to allow unions to operate freely, and to work with them to address the economic challenges the country faces.

At least 11 people have died in clashes with security forces in new rioting in the North African country where unrest is in its fourth week. The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, said eight people were killed over the weekend in the western towns of Thala, and Kasserine.

Rioting to protest joblessness and other social ills has scarred numerous cities across this tiny country since Dec 17, after a 26-year-old man with a university degree set himself on fire when police confiscated his fruits and vegetables for selling without a permit. The man died last week at a hospital outside capital, Tunis.

Union official Belgacem Saihi told The Associated Press that up to five people had died in Thala protests on Saturday night. In Kasserine, seat of the region where Thala is located, union official Amor Mhamdi said at least three people were shot to death Saturday night while protesting.

The longtime chief of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party called on the Tunisian leader to urgently "order an immediate cease-fire ... to spare the lives of innocent citizens and respect their right to peacefully demonstrate." Nejib Chebbi claimed that at least 20 people were killed in Thala and Kasserine, citing party representatives in the region.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber condemned the killings and the attack on the unions who have been at the heart of the protests. He said:

'This is madness. No one should have to pay with their life for exercising their right to protest, and calling for a job.

'What is happening in Tunisia is the result of unbalanced globalisation and too much privatisation.'

The umbrella body for trade unions in Tunisia, the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), has called for an end to the violent repression of public protests, greater democracy and for soaring unemployment - especially among young people - and regional inequalities to be addressed.

Before the storming of the UGTT today, the attacks on demonstrators had already been condemned by the US and UK governments, and by EU Vice President Baroness Cathy Ashton.

In neighboring Algeria, meanwhile, three people died over four days of protest, the Interior Ministry there said this weekend. Algerian youths took to streets to protest rising prices of staples like sugar and cooking oil. The Algerian government has since backed down and it announced it was slashing taxes on those products by 41%.