Police fired into the air to disperse a crowd ransacking buildings in a Tunis suburb today, the first time Tunisia's capital has been hit by a wave of violent unrest that officials say has killed 23 civilians.
A reporter in the working class Ettadamen neighbourhood said he saw hundreds of youths throwing stones at police and then smashing shops and setting fire to a bank.
He said the crowd had blocked the roads with burning tyres, set fire to a bus and two cars and also set fire to a local government office.
Police fired warning shots into the air and also fired teargas grenades to try to force people back from the building, the reporter said.
"We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God," the crowds chanted.
Reports of the clashes emerged minutes after Tunisia's government raised by another three the total death toll from the unrest, the worst in decades, but it dismissed estimates from human rights groups who put the count higher.
Until Tuesday evening there had been no reports of major new clashes after the army was deployed in the most restive towns, schools and universities were shut indefinitely and police with loudhailers ordered people in at least one town not to gather in the streets.
People taking part in the weeks of clashes say they want jobs and better living conditions, but the authorities said the protests were hijacked by a minority of violent extremists. They said the victims were killed when police fired in self-defence.
Tunisia has been bracing for international reaction to its handling of the protests. However former colonial ally France, which still carries influence in the north African country, responded without apportioning blame for the deaths.
Tunisian communications minister Samir Labidi told a news conference that the death toll from clashes in the past few days was 21 -- or three more than previously announced.
Another two people were killed in clashes earlier in the unrest, which has now been continuing for almost a month. A further two committed suicide in acts of protest.