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Youth at heart of Tunisia unrest buried

TUNIS, Tunisia — More than 5,000 people have reportedly taken part in the funeral of a young man whose self-immolation touched off nearly three weeks of unrest in Tunisia.

Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire Dec. 17 in despair after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he sold without a permit.

Bouazizi's act sparked violent protests over unemployment that have led to three deaths.

Attia Athmouni, spokesman for the support committee for the young man and other demonstrators, said Bouazizi died Tuesday at a hospital outside Tunis. He was buried Wednesday.

Bouazizi, who was 26, had a university degree but no steady work.

His hardship resonated with many in this North African nation. Unemployment stands at around 14 percent but is much higher outside the capital and beachside tourist zones, in regions like Sidi Bouzid in the center-west, where Bouazizi lived.

The many educated youths who cannot find jobs are particularly frustrated.

Unrest is rare in Tunisia, a popular tourist destination on the Mediterranean where the government brooks little dissent and is routinely criticized for its human rights record.

The protests caught President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's government off-guard. In response, he announced a massive plan to create jobs in Tunisia, particularly in regions off tourists' radar like Sidi Bouzid.

Ben Ali also visited Bouazizi in the hospital before his death. Photos released from the visit showed Bouazizi wrapped in bandages from head to toe.

The protests started in Sidi Bouzid soon after Bouazizi's suicide attempt. Police confiscated his goods, and an officer slapped him in front of passers-by, his supporters said. He tried to lodge a complaint, but authorities refused to accept it. Desperate, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire in public in front of a local government office.

More than 5,000 people took part in the funeral procession through Sidi Bouzid to his nearby native village, union official Kamel Laabidi said.

He said police prevented the procession from passing near the spot where Bouazizi set himself on fire three weeks ago.