Tourists evacuated from Tunisia

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A riot police officer stands next to a burned car after riots in Tunis (AP)

Tour operator Thomas Cook has said it is evacuating 1,800 tourists from strife-hit Tunisia.

Thomas Cook said it had not seen any specific problems for its holidaymakers in the north African nation but was asking everyone to leave as a precaution.

Tunisia has been rocked by unrest sparked by anger at unemployment and at the country’s leadership, with thousands of demonstrators marching through Tunisia’s capital on Friday to demand the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The protests came a day after Mr Ben Ali appeared on TV to try to stop deadly riots that have swept the country.

Demonstrators chanted slogans against the president, including “Ben Ali, out!” and “Ben Ali, assassin!” One poster read “We won’t forget,” a reference to the rioters who had been killed, many by police bullets.

Hundreds of police with shields and riot gear blocked the avenue in front of the interior ministry, where over the years there have been reports of torture.

The march was organised by Tunisia’s only legal trade union, which also went ahead with a symbolic two-hour strike in the region of the capital.

The official death toll in the riots is 23, but opposition figures insist dozens more have been killed.

Facing the worst unrest in his 23 years in power, Mr Ben Ali went on television on Thursday night, making sweeping pledges for political and media freedom, saying he would leave the presidency when his term ends in 2014, and ordering prices on sugar, milk and bread slashed.

In Tunisia, the tourism industry is key to the country’s economy.

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