Birthplace of Tunisia uprising to hold day of 'rage'

AFP , Sunday 15 Dec 2013

Protests in Tunisia (Photo: Reuters)

Tunisians plan a day of "rage" in the birthplace of the Arab Spring on Tuesday to vent their anger at new rulers they say have failed to improve their lives.

Three years ago on December 17, the self-immolation of 26-year-old street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi in the impoverished central town of Sidi Bouzid unleashed a wave of protest across the North African country.

His tragic act, aimed at attracting attention to economic hardship and repression, was the fuse for uprisings across the region that toppled veteran strongmen in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

But three years on, unemployment in Tunisia remains stuck at 15 percent, with little prospect of improvement as the country remains gripped by political crisis.

"Tuesday will be a day of rage and protests against the policies of the government which did not keep to its word and betrayed the promises of the revolution," said activist Youssef Jlili.

Jlili said it would be a peaceful demonstration organised jointly with other pro-reform groups and the UGTT trade union confederation.

A tribute will also be held for two opposition politicians who were killed earlier this year by suspected jihadists, triggering calls for the resignation of the Islamist-led government.

The murders plunged Tunisia into a deep crisis which began to ease in October when the ruling Islamists and the mainly secular opposition struck a hard-won agreement to form an interim government of independents pending fresh elections.

Finding a prime minister acceptable to both sides was an arduous task, and after months of delays, political parties finally named Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa to form a new government late Saturday.

However the protracted crisis and resulting economic malaise led organisers of Tuesday's events to insist the country's leaders -- President Moncef Marzouki, parliament chief Mustapha Ben Jaafar and Prime Minister Ali Larayedh -- were not welcome in Sidi Bouzid.

"We categorically refuse their presence... because they have done nothing but impoverish our region. They are not credible," said UGTT official Lazhar Ghmoudi.


Three years after the uprising that forced veteran president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country, there is growing frustration with the failure of Tunisia's new rulers to improve their lives.

The Sidi Bouzid region is home to nearly half a million people and its unemployment rate is the nation's highest at 24.4 percent.

"Three years have gone by and nothing changed. The social and economic situation is still difficult and the region has plunged into misery," said activist Mondher Chaibi.

"The only thing that has changed is that they have built high walls around state buildings," he said.

Protests have rocked Sidi Bouzid, like other parts of Tunisia, over the past two years, and demonstrators have attacked government and ruling party buildings, and clashed with police.

"Our lives have gone from bad to worse. We are poorer than before and our children are out of work," said Hasnia Mnasri, who runs a stall selling clothes outside police headquarters.

"The only thing the government gave us is that," she said, pointing to a commemorative cart-statue erected on the square outside the governor's office in memory of Bouazizi.

In a nearby coffee shop, young job-seekers agreed they have little to live for in Tunisia, and spoke of their dreams of escaping to Europe for a better life.

"I was unemployed (before the uprising). I am still unemployed and I am always going to be," said Safouane Amri, 24.

He joked that the only "magic wand" that might change his life would be to meet a foreigner on the Internet and leave Tunisia to marry her, "even if she is 80."

Earlier this month, the World Bank warned that it saw no prospect of unemployment easing in the short term, given that "Tunisia needed growth of more than 4.5 percent to reduce the number of people out of work."

It also predicted that growth in 2013 would not exceed 2.6 percent -- despite optimistic predictions from the government of growth of 3.0-3.5 this year and 4.5 percent in 2014.

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