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Just days after Tunisia’s first free election, violent protests have erupted in the town seen as the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Troops fired into the air to disperse a crowd attacking government offices in Sidi Bouzid.

Unrest broke out after vote results there were invalidated, amid claims of financial irregularities by the Popular List, the party that won locally. Then a frosty exchange on TV between the party’s London-based leader Hachemi Hamdi and the man earmarked as Tunisia’s next prime minister, Hamadi Jbeli, stirred tensions further.

The would-be premier rejected any rift between his election-winning Islamist party Ennahda and Sidi Bouzid. Jbeli said rumours that he had insulted its people, describing them as scum, were dangerous slander.

Tunisia’s election commission has confirmed that Ennahda, banned under ousted President Ben Ali, won over 40 per cent of Sunday’s landmark vote.

The victorious party has tried to reassure secularists, vowing not to impose a Muslim moral code and starting coalition talks with other parties.

Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, has called for calm in Sidi Bouzid. He accuses forces linked to Ben Ali of fanning violence in the town where a night-time curfew has been imposed.

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