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Fifty die in Tunisia joblessness protest

Schools and universities were closed after at least 50 people died in Tunisia during days of youth protests against high unemployment and rising food costs.

Last night (Tuesday) new riots broke out in the north African country’s capital, Tunis. Meanwhile looting and firing against demonstrators continued in Kasserine, one of three farming areas with high rates of youth unemployment that have seen the worst of the violence.

The demonstrations mark the most serious unrest in Tunisia for decades.

The head of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (IFHRL), Souhayr Belhassen and Trades Union officials say the death toll could be as many as 50.

"The number killed has passed 50," Sadok Mahmoudi, a member of the regional branch of the Tunisian workers' union UGTT, told the Agence France Presse news agency.

All of the dead were demonstrators said minister of information, Samir Abidi, adding that more than 30 police were injured.

People living in Kasserine said yesterday that police had fired on demonstrators from rooftops and a curfew had been put in place. Police had acted in self-defence when the police station was attacked with petrol bombs, said officials.

Police were warning residents not to gather in groups - even of two, a trade unionist in the town of Thala told the BBC. There was a desperate shortage of food and heating oil in the town, he added.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has defended his government's reaction to the unrest and promised to create more jobs. He said on national radio and television that he was ordering the creation of as many as 300,000 jobs and called for greater freedoms for members of the news media.

"These violent, sometimes bloody events, which caused deaths among civilians and injuries among security officers, were perpetrated by hooded gangs that attacked, at night, public institutions and even citizens in their houses," he said. "This is an intolerable act of terrorism."

But the EU and the US have called on the country to respect freedom of expression.

The, International Federation of Human Rights League’s Khadija Cherif says instead of trying  to solve the problem peacefully, Tunisian police fired on the protesters, accused them of terrorism and clamped down on freedom of expression, including the Internet.

"I think the outside world should pay more attention to the fact that the majority of the population are now demanding the same kind of rights of access to jobs and economic and political possibilities as in their close neighborhoods in southern Europe," she said.

The rights group has called for an inquiry into the roots of the unrest in Tunisia and an international investigation into the deaths.

Hayley attribution