US worried by Tunisia riots, Internet freedoms

Sat Jan 8, 2011 7:31am GMT

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States called in Tunisia's ambassador in Washington because of its handling of anti-government riots and possible interference with the Internet, including Facebook accounts, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

Speaking a day before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to the Gulf to discuss expanding civil society freedoms across the Arab world, a U.S. State Department official said the department was concerned about rising unrest in Tunisia and Algeria, both of which have seen rioting in recent weeks.

"We're certainly watching what's happening in both Tunisia and Algeria with a great deal of interest," a senior State Department official said.

Clashes broke out last month in Tunisia as students, professionals and youths protested a shortage of jobs and restrictions on public freedoms. Neighboring Algeria has beefed up security as protests broke out over food prices and unemployment.

The State Department official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tunisia's ambassador was called in on Thursday to receive a formal expression of concern.

"(We) expressed our concern about both what is happening with regard to the demonstrations and expressed and encouraged the Tunisian government to ensure that civil liberties are respected, including the freedom to peacefully assemble," the official said.

The protests have grown into the most widespread and violent flare-up of dissent during President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule. They have included street demonstrations and a strike by lawyers to demand an end to what they said were beatings by security forces.

"QUITE CONCERNED"   Continued...

<p>U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes remarks after receiving the 2009 Alice Award at Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington June 8, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young</p>
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