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Thomas Cook evacuating 2,000 Germans from Tunisia

BERLIN, Jan 14, 2011 – Tourism company Thomas Cook said it was evacuating about 2,000 German holidaymakers from Tunisia Friday following a travel warning from the German foreign ministry due to mounting unrest.

"Several charter planes will be sent to Tunisia today to pick up around 2,000 German clients of Thomas Cook," the German unit of the British company said in a statement.

"At the same time, all departures to Tunisia from Germany until January 17 have been cancelled and the clients have been informed. Affected customers will be offered alternatives to their original destination."

Thomas Cook Germany chairman Peter Fankhauser noted that the security situation in the country was "very tense".

"Although our clients in Tunisia have until now not been directly affected, we have taken this step in their interest," he said in the statement.

"We are living up to our responsibility as a company."

The company said it would allow its customers to change their travel plans at no cost until January 24.

"Thomas Cook continues to observe the situation and is in constant contact with the authorities and colleagues on the ground," the company said. "Clients will be informed by tour organisers and looked after until their departure."

Competitor TUI said Friday it would not repatriate its 1,000 German customers currently in Tunisia.

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"The atmosphere among our clients is calm. We have not had any requests until now for an early return," it said in a statement.

Violent unrest against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali\’s iron-fisted rule has plagued the popular north African holiday destination since mid-December in the worst political violence in his 23 years in power.

A Paris-based rights group says 66 people have been killed, several times higher than the official toll.

In a bid to quell the unprecedented unrest, Ben Ali promised in a national address late Thursday that he would not seek another term in office and vowed to liberalise the political system.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday that senior European Union diplomats would be meeting Friday on Berlin\’s initiative to discuss the situation, as he called for an end to attacks on demonstrators.

He warned Germans to put off any non-essential trips to Tunisia, echoing similar calls made Thursday by the Netherlands and Portugal.

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