Hundreds of people demonstrated for a third straight day on Thursday in a poor Tunisian town, raising fears of fresh violence after bloody clashes the day before, witnesses said.
Protesters in Siliana gathered at the headquarters of Tunisia's UGTT trade union, which had called a general strike, before taking to the streets to demand that the regional governor step down, as well as funds to boost development and the release of demonstrators arrested in April last year.
Clashes with police in Siliana on Wednesday wounded more than 250 people, but UGTT leader Nejib Sebti said he hoped violence would be avoided on Thursday.
"There will be no violence because the police have withdrawn, but the governor (Ahmed Ezzine Mahjoubi) must go for the strike to end," he said.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali insisted in a brief television appearance on Wednesday evening that "this governor is not quitting."
There were no police on the town's streets early on Thursday, an AFP journalist reported, even outside the governorate's head offices, which authorities said were attacked the day before.
Stones, burnt tires and the trunks of fallen trees littered the streets in signs of Wednesday's violence.
Shops were closed, and the UGTT said the strike was being observed across the region, which lies more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Tunis.
"We want a little consideration. We are human beings made of flesh and bones," said protester Maoubi.
The authorities have warned they would crackdown on protests if they turned violent, but the police would not interrupt peaceful demonstrations.
Protesters are also demanding action against police officers who fired on demonstrators with small-calibre birdshot on Wednesday, wounding dozens.
Medics at the hospital in Siliana said 265 people had been treated for bruises, fractures and cuts, some of them having been hit by birdshot.
Nineteen people were partially or totally blinded, the hospital said.
On Wednesday, protesters were again demanding funds to boost growth -- a similar economic grievance to those that fuelled the Arab Spring uprising which toppled veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Investment in the Siliana region fell by 44.5 percent from January to October, compared with the same period last year.
Much of Tunisia's interior suffers from a chronic lack of development, and has seen growing social unrest in the face of rising discontent over the Islamist-led government's failure to improve living standards.© ANP/AFP