January 13, 2011 / 4:56 PM / 8 years ago

France condemns "disproportionate" Tunisia violence

LONDON (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Francois Fillon condemned on Thursday the “disproportionate” use of force by authorities against protestors in Tunisia, the harshest criticism to date from the country’s former colonial power.

A man walks past wreckage strewn near city hall which was damaged during recent clashes with police, on the main square in Sidi Bouzid, near the capital Tunis January 13, 2011. A combination of deploying the military on the streets and concessions to protesters may allow the authorities to contain the violence, but in the longer-term they could struggle to dominate the country in the way they have done up to now. REUTERS/Stringer

Tunisia is being hit by its worst unrest in decades as anti-government protests have spiralled into street violence and police have used tear gas and gunfire to control crowds. The official count of the number of civilians killed so far is 23, while rights groups say the number may be higher.

“We insist that all parties show restraint and choose the path of dialogue ... we cannot continue with this disproportionate use of violence,” Fillon said on an official visit to London.

Gunshots were heard in the centre of Tunis on Thursday, a Reuters reporter said, after one man was killed in clashes with police in the city overnight. The first protests against unemployment, corruption and government repression in the North African country began nearly a month ago.

Until now, France, which ruled Tunisia until 1956, had refrained from openly criticising the country’s handling of the protests.

“We are extremely worried by this situation and the violence which has been taking place for the last few days,” Fillon said, adding that his government was making great efforts to convince the Tunisian authorities to take the path of dialogue.

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