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“[She was] insulted, beaten, knocked to the ground and dragged by her hair for a few hundred meters,” Miss Baccar said.

The unrest began after Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old with a university degree, set himself on fire when police in the central town of Sidi Bouzid confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit. He later died in a hospital near Tunis, and his desperate act touched a nerve with educated, unemployed youths nationwide.

Unemployment in Tunisia is officially around 14 percent but is much higher in rural areas and among youths.

The death even sparked several copycat suicides - in the latest, an unemployed 23-year-old climbed an electric pylon Tuesday near Bouazizi’s hometown and shocked himself to death, union official Mohamed Fadhel told the AP.

The unrest has hopscotched to towns around the country, concentrated in, but not limited to, regions less visible to the waves of European tourists who flock to Tunisia’s beaches. Public buildings, schools, cars and even police stations have been attacked.

Mr. Ben Ali, whose portrait hangs in public offices across the country, has labeled the rioting “terrorist acts” controlled from abroad. On Monday, he ordered all high schools and universities, seen as hotbeds of activism, to shut down indefinitely.

His government is now arresting bloggers and reporters.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said a journalist for Radio Kalima was carted off Tuesday from his home in the city of Sfax and a correspondent for the radio in the southern city of Gabes was sprayed with a Mace-like gas, pushed into a truck and taken to the Interior Ministry.

Most of the deaths have been over the last three days in the central town of Kasserine, 120 miles southwest of Tunis.

“After trying in vain to stop [protesters] from invading police stations and firing warning shots, security forces were obliged to open fire,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement Tuesday of violence there Monday.

Local teacher Chokri Hayouni said he counted 19 dead in the city, where he said 3,000 soldiers were deployed, including more than a dozen military vehicles positioned around the central bank.

Youths in neighboring Algeria took to the streets for four days to protest skyrocketing prices of staples like cooking oil and sugar, but authorities quickly slashed prices and calm returned. Experts see no particular link between the events.

France, the former colonial ruler, has laid low during the Tunisian unrest.

But the United States summoned Tunisia’s ambassador, and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tunisians should enjoy the right to protest and expressed concern about a crackdown on the country’s social media.

In response, Tunisia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador Monday, expressing “surprise” at the American reaction.

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