Tunisia closes schools and universities following riots

Tunisian police in Regueb, 10 January 2011 Protests in Tunisia have been continuing since December

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The Tunisian government has ordered all schools and universities to be indefinitely closed following continuing violent protests.

The announcement came after students marched in the capital, Tunis, to protest against police violence.

At least 14 people were killed over the weekend in the protests. They have been linked to anger over unemployment and frustrations with the ruling elite.

The president said protesters were responsible for "terrorist acts".

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali also defended his government's record in the face of continuing protests over unemployment, and promised to create more jobs.

The unrest has also been linked to frustrations with the president and the ruling elite.

Mr Ben Ali says an extremist minority has been misleading the young.

"The events were the work of masked gangs that attacked at night government buildings and even civilians inside their homes in a terrorist act that cannot be overlooked," he said on Monday in a speech broadcast on state television.

He promised to create 300,000 new jobs, AFP news agency reported. "We have decided to multiply work opportunities and the creation of sources of revenue... in all sectors during 2011 and 2012," he said.

Funeral processions

Demonstrations are rare in Tunisia, where there are tight controls aimed at preventing dissent.

The closure of schools is an indication of how seriously authorities are taking the demonstrations, which have been going on for more than three weeks.

Map of Tunisia

"Following disturbances in certain establishments, it has been decided to suspend courses from Tuesday until further notice," a statement said.

Also on Monday, funeral processions in two of the three towns where people were killed at the weekend - Kasserine and Regueb - were reported to have turned into confrontations with security forces.

Police used tear gas and batons to disperse demonstrators in a third town, Thala, AFP reported.

A union activist in Kasserine, Adnan al-Amiri, told the BBC's Arabic service that police were using undue violence.

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We call for restraint in the use of force and for respect of fundamental freedoms”

End Quote Baroness Ashton EU foreign policy chief

"There are violent confrontations and the police are using live ammunition against youths demanding jobs," he said.

"They're demonstrating right now. We wanted to go and bury the martyrs but they [the police] prevented us. Just 10 minutes ago I saw a young man hit by a bullet in his side."

Tunisian authorities say police only shot at protesters over the weekend in self-defence, and after they had issued warnings. Protesters and opposition figures say the total number of deaths over the weekend was as high as 20.

International concern

The European Union has called on the Tunisian government to stop using force against demonstrators.

"We call for restraint in the use of force and for respect of fundamental freedoms," EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton said in a statement.

The US has also expressed concern over the government's handling of the demonstrations.

On Monday the Tunisian foreign ministry said it had summoned the US ambassador to express its "astonishment" at Washington's position.

France said it "deplored" the violence, and called for calm.

Mr Ben Ali is only Tunisia's second president since the country gained independence from France in 1956.

He came to power in 1987 and was last re-elected to a five-year term in 2009.

The protests in Tunisia have coincided with similar unrest in Algeria linked to unemployment, the cost of living, and political frustrations.

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