Tunisia president calls for new cabinet after protests

TUNIS Fri Nov 30, 2012 4:18pm EST

Demonstrators hold up signs and shout slogans outside the interior minister's office in Tunis, during a protest against police violence in Siliana November 30, 2012. At least 200 people were injured when demonstrators demanding jobs clashed with police on Tuesday and Wednesday in Siliana, a city on the edge of the Sahara whose inhabitants have long complained of neglect. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Demonstrators hold up signs and shout slogans outside the interior minister's office in Tunis, during a protest against police violence in Siliana November 30, 2012. At least 200 people were injured when demonstrators demanding jobs clashed with police on Tuesday and Wednesday in Siliana, a city on the edge of the Sahara whose inhabitants have long complained of neglect.

Credit: Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki asked the North African state's Islamist prime minister on Friday to appoint a new cabinet in response to violent protests over economic hardship.

Clashes between protesters and police in the northwest town of Siliana wounded more than 220 people this week, with at least 17 blinded by birdshot, according to medical sources.

U.N. human rights officials said the security forces used excessive force to quell the protests, in some of their harshest criticism of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's government since it took office in October last year.

For many Tunisians, the clashes recalled harsh policing under Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the veteran autocrat brought down in the first Arab Spring uprising in January 2011.

"The government must be changed to have a competent technocrat cabinet and not a party political one," Marzouki, a secularist, said in an address carried on state television. "If the clashes continue and the government's response is not adequate, there will be chaos and a dead-end."

Jebali, who hails from Tunisia's biggest Islamist movement Ennahda, has rejected calls for his resignation and accused leftists of sowing disorder.

Marzouki's demand for a reshuffle raises the pressure on Jebali from his political opponents but he is not obliged under the constitution to obey the call.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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