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At least 35 killed in Tunisia riots: rights group

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Al-Arabiya

Tunis (Al Arabiya, Agencies)
At least 35 people have been killed in the riots that erupted over the weekend in Tunisia, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

"We have a list of the names of the 35," Souhayr Belhassen told AFP. "The total figure is higher. It's somewhere around 50, but that's an estimate."

The Paris-based FIDH is a global federation of 164 human rights groups and is monitoring events in Tunisia closely through a network of local observers.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, told Al Arabiya that Washington is not part of Tunisia's unrest.

"There are no current contacts between Washington and the Tunisian authorities, but we will contact them once the state of unrest in the country calms down," said Clinton, who is currently on a tour of the Gulf region.

Clinton's full interview with Al Arabiya will be aired at 6:00 KSA (1500 GMT).

Political protests broke out in Tunisia in December after a 26-year-old graduate set himself aflame in protest after police took the farm produce he was attempting to sell to make a living.

More fierce riots erupted at the weekend, triggering a tough crackdown by the Tunisian authorities, in the midst of calls from the United States and the European Union for President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime to show self-control.

Belhassen -- who is herself Tunisian -- said the death toll had "increased tragically" since weekend protests in the Regueb, Thala et Kasserine areas.

Before these riots, the death toll was estimated at four, including two suicides, and the security forces stand accused of using excessive force.

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

"Gangs of thugs"The Tunisian president blamed weekend rioting on "gangs of thugs", dismissing increasing concern from the international community.

Ben Ali also pledged in a television address Monday that his government would create 300,000 new jobs to tackle the unemployment seen by many as the core of the weeks of unrest that escalated at the weekend.

To try to stem the unrest, the government has closed all schools and universities from Tuesday until further notice.

The European Union and France called for restraint and calm as the new protests broke out Monday. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for restraint, dialogue and full respect for free expression.

But Tunisia summoned the U.S. ambassador Gordon Gray after Washington last week condemned the crackdown on rioters.

The United States last week raised concerns with Tunisia about its handling of the unrest and called for "restraint".

It also expressed concern over apparent "interference" with the Internet by the Tunis government, accused of arresting dissident bloggers and hacking and blocking certain websites.

Tunisia's unemployment rate is officially 14 percent, but the percentage of graduates without work is about double that.

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