Africa

Tunisia fire kills Kasserine jail-breakers

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Two Tunisian prisoners trying to escape have suffocated after setting their mattresses on fire, officials say.

Another 24 inmates were rushed to hospital in the central town of Kasserine with breathing problems, the Tunisian News Agency (Tap) reports.

Analysts say Tunisia has been unstable since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January.

Tap reports that relatives of inmates who gathered outside the prison after the fire stoned government troops.

'Drugs and weapons'

The justice ministry said the situation was now under control.

"Some prisoners who were trying to escape set fire to mattresses, causing the death of two detainees, asphyxiated by the smoke," it said.

Several prisoners escaped from the same prison in April after setting fire to a cell.

Tunisia has been hit by a wave of riots and demonstrations since Ben Ali was overthrown in a popular uprising.

Pro-democracy groups accuse the interim government of failing to implement swift political and economic reforms.

Ben Ali was convicted in absentia on Tuesday of possessing illegal drugs and weapons.

He fled to Saudi Arabia in January - the first leader be ousted in the pro-democracy protests that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East.