Tunisians protest economic amnesty bill

Reuters , Saturday 12 Sep 2015

Tunisian demonstrators holding banners that read: "Our Nation Needs Judgement", chant slogans to protest a law offering amnesty for those accused of corruption, during a march in Tunis, Tunisia, Saturday Sept. 12, 2015. (AP Photo)

Hundreds of Tunisians marched in the capital Tunis on Saturday to protest a proposed law giving amnesty to businessmen accused of corruption during the rule of ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Waving banners saying "This law will not pass", protesters took to the streets under tight security in the city after authorities warned about possible car bomb attacks by Islamist militants trying to undermine Tunisia's democracy.

The proposed law would clear businessmen accused of corruption under Ben Ali in exchange for their ill-gotten wealth that the government says will inject needed finance into the North African state's economy.

But critics say the law will be a step back for the country almost five years after an uprising against corruption and abuses ousted Ben Ali and allowed Tunisia a transition to democracy, free elections and a new constitution.

"This law is dangerous. The old regime is trying to make an economic comeback," said Asma, a young protester wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: "No forgiving". "We'll keep in the streets until this law is defeated."

Since its 2011 revolution ousted Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia has managed to build a political compromise between an Islamist party and other opposition figures and former Ben Ali officials.

That consensus allowed a return to stability but the new economic law, which would halt prosecutions of former officials and businessmen accused of corruption if they reveal their stolen wealth, threatens to open up old wounds and divisions.

Their frozen funds would then be injected into Tunisia's economy, which has been hit hard by two major Islamist militant attacks this year against its vital tourism industry.

But one minister has said the government hopes to recover at least five billion dollars through the law.

Critics say the proposal white-washes past corruption and will allow the return of elites who benefited from Ben Ali's autocratic rule.

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