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Tunisia schools shut amid turmoil
Government orders closure of schools and universities as protests in north African state show no sign of abating.
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2011 19:35

Schools and universities have been shut in Tunisia following weeks of protests over high unemployment and cost of living.

Education ministries gave the order to suspend classes on Tuesday after new clashes broke out in several towns a day earlier.

Fresh clashes broke out on Monday, including on campuses in Tunisia where union officials said one student was wounded and several arrested. Some students called for mass protests on Facebook pages that showed the Tunisian flag stained in blood.

"After the trouble in certain establishments, it has been decided to suspend classes from Tuesday until a new order," education ministries announced.

"While waiting for the conclusion of inquiries to determine those responsible for acts of vandalism that were committed, exams under way in universities are postponed until a later date," they said.

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said that at least 35 people were killed in violence over the weekend after security forces shot at demonstrators, prompting international calls for restraint.

"We have a list of the names of the 35," Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president, told the AFP news agency.

"The total figure is higher. It's somewhere around 50, but that's an estimate."

However, authorities have said that 14 people were killed in the violence, adding that security forces acted in self-defence.

Before the weekend protests, the death toll was estimated at four, including two suicides.

'Excessive force'

Security forces have been accused of using excessive force against the protesters.

Read more about Tunisia's unrest on the spotlight page

Belhassen said the toll had "increased tragically" after new protests at the weekend in Regueb, Thala and Kasserine - remote, agricultural areas with high rates of youth unemployment - and that so many had been wounded that "they can't be counted".

The organisation follows events in tightly controlled Tunisia, criticised for its rights record, through a network of local monitors.

Another international watchdog, Amnesty International, has estimated that 23 people were "killed by security forces" during the protests against the government on Saturday and Sunday.

Calls for restraint

Protests traditionally have been rare in Tunisia, which has had only two presidents since independence from France 55 years ago.

The European Union, France, the United Nations and the United States have expressed alarm and called on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's government to show restraint.

The unrest prompted Ben Ali to announce the creation of 300,000 jobs in a televised address on Monday, on top of 50,000 already pledged for the regions.

He also called a national conference on employment for February.

Tunisia's unemployment rate is officially 14 per cent, but the percentage of graduates without work is reported to be double that.

Ben Ali also slammed the demonstrators as "gangs of thugs", saying they had sold out to "extremism and terrorism, and are manipulated from outside the country".

Tunisia meanwhile summoned the US ambassador Gordon Gray on Monday after Washington last week condemned the crackdown on demonstrators.

"We wonder about the reaction of the American authorities to a so-called peaceful demonstration, during which Molotov cocktails were thrown and premises were vandalised and burned," Saida Chtioui, the country's foreign ministry secretary of state, said.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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