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Tunisia Deploys Troops to Stop Migrant Exodus

A Carabinieri police officer walks past Tunisian migrants as they wait to board a ship towards Porto Empedocle, in Sicily, where they will be taken for document checks, in Lampedusa, Italy, February 14, 2011

Tunisian troops are patrolling ports to try to stop the mass exodus of illegal immigrants to Europe after a popular uprising toppled Tunisia's long-time president.

Nearly 5,000 Tunisians have landed on Italy's tiny Lampedusa island over the past few days.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is appealing to the European Union for $135 million in aid to help Italy cope with what it calls a humanitarian emergency.

Tunisia's foreign ministry has rejected Italy's request that it be allowed to send police to Tunisia. The ministry says it will not let anyone infringe on Tunisia's sovereignty or interfere in its internal affairs.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy says he agrees with Mr. Berlusconi that the entire EU is facing an emergency. He says he is prepared to hold talks with all EU leaders as soon as possible.

International Organization for Migration spokesperson Gemini Pandya speaks with VOA's Cecily Hilleary:

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says the EU will grant Tunisia $347 million in aid, with $23 million to be made available immediately. Ashton said during a visit to Tunis Monday that the money is to be used by Tunisia's interim government for a transition to democracy and for economic development.

She said the Tunisian people have reached a point of no return in their history.

Mass protests last month against unemployment, rising prices and corruption forced autocratic Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee after 23 years in power.

His ouster has left many Tunisians feeling uncertain about the future. Thousands are seeking what they believe would be a better life in Europe.

Amnesty International is urging Italy and the EU to protect the human rights of the immigrants, allow them access to fair asylum procedures, and inform them of their legal rights.

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