TUNIS, Tunisia, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The Tunisian government invoked a night-time curfew Wednesday as army and police were deployed to deal with demonstrators.
The New York Times reported witnesses at one of several demonstrations said security forces had shot and killed four protesters.
"How can you fire on your own people?" asked a 30-year-old business owner who declined to identify himself for fear of reprisals. "If you do that, then there is no return. Now you are a killer."
The Times said there were reports relatives of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fearing for their safety, were fleeing the country.
Earlier in the day, the president fired the North African country's interior minister and ordered the release of people arrested in weeks of unrest.
Officials say 21 people have been killed since the protests against unemployment, poverty, corruption and repression started in mid-December, but human rights and trade union activists tell the BBC the toll is at least 50.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said Ben Ali dismissed Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem and replaced him with Ahmed Friaa. Kacem was blamed for excessive use of force by police.
Ben Ali "has announced the creation of a committee of investigation into corruption and to assess the mistakes of certain officials," Ghannouchi said. "The president has decided to free all those arrested in the riots."
Wednesday morning, troops were sent into Tunis for the first time since the unrest erupted in the south. Armored vehicles and soldiers staked out key buildings, including the television headquarters. The move came after hundreds of youths ransacked shops, set a bank afire and tried to attack a government building in nearby Ettadamen Tuesday night.
In Kasserine, a trade union official said all workers were observing a general strike Wednesday.