Posts Tagged ‘Tunisia’

Iran is heading toward a social explosion

February 12, 2018

Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist who famously forecast the “end of history”. (AFP)
DUBAI: Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist who famously forecast the “end of history,” told the World Government Summit in Dubai that Iran was heading toward a crisis caused by social tensions between generations within the country.
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“In Iran. there has been a social revolution going on beneath the surface. There is a young population, well-educated women in particular, who do not correspond to the rural, conservative power structure that runs the country. It’s headed toward some kind of explosion and I’m not sure of the outcome, but it is not a stable situation.”
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His warning came during a sobering speech that highlighted many of the challenges facing government and policy-makers, from the weakness of international institutions to the threat of cyber and biological warfare, and the rise of “strongman” leaders in many parts of the world.
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Fukuyama said that recent disturbances in Iran were partly because of climate change factors such as drought and water shortage, which often caused violence and cut across all the other risk factors.
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“A lot of the recent unrest in Iran had environmental causes. Ground water sources were being overused, leading to drought. A lot of violence in the world is due to climate change,” he said.
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There were some positives in an otherwise gloomy analysis of global affairs. In conversation with Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of foreign affairs, he said that the Gulf states had shown that it was possible to establish credible economic and political models without the influence of Western liberal democratic institutions.
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“The Gulf has got the ‘liberal’ part well. It has security and the rule of law and property rights. Maybe the democratic aspect has been shown to be not that necessary.
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“The Gulf is showing the rest of the Arab world how to do it. The problem with the Arab world has been not being able to establish stable states. Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen are all failed states to some degree or other,” he said.
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Fukuyama said that Tunisia, where he has traveled recently, was the only democracy to come out of the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011. “But they are not delivering economic growth. The country will not collapse but it is hanging by a thread.”
He agreed that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the precursor to American disentanglement from the region, and that there was now a serious risk of “big power” confrontation in Syria. The dominance of the US from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the global financial crisis was an anomaly. There has never been a period when one state had so much power. Now the US is not reacting well because it’s used to being in charge.
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Fukuyama said that the US was being “displaced” by China, which already has a bigger economy by some measurements. “The global financial crisis discredited the economic systems of the USA and the European Union. The ‘one belt, one road’ policy of China is hugely ambitious, shifting the entire global center of gravity to central Asia with the aim of moving China to a new stage of their national development.”
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He said that financial markets were underrating the risk of serious military conflict in Korea. “It could be a replay of the Korean War of the 1950s,” he said.
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But he said that the most serious threat to the global liberal order came from within Western countries, where populism, anti-globalization and anti-migration sentiment had led to the rise of a class of “strongman” leaders who were undermining the institutions of their countries.
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He said that the “old poles” of capitalism versus communism were dead, but were giving way to “identity politics” — clashes between ethnicities and religions, where compromise was harder to achieve. He said that Islamic terrorism was an example of identity politics.

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90 Migrants Drowned After Boat Capsized off the coast of Libya

February 2, 2018

Reuters

90 migrants reported drowned after boat capsized off the coast of Libya early on Friday leaving three known survivors –

Reuters

GENEVA/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – An estimated 90 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler’s boat capsized early on Friday, leaving three known survivors and 10 bodies washed up on shore, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa, IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon, speaking from Tunis, told a Geneva news briefing.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor and water

FILE photo — In this Saturday Jan. 27, 2018, photo, 329 refugees and migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Bangladesh, wait to be rescued by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, after leaving Libya trying to reach European soil aboard an overcrowded wooden boat, 45 miles north of Al-Khums, Libya. (AP)

“They have given an estimate of 90 who drowned during the capsize, but we still have to verify the exact number of people who lost their lives during the tragedy,” she said.

Earlier security officials in the western Libyan town of Zurawa said two Libyans and one Pakistani had been rescued from the boat. It said 10 bodies had been recovered, mostly Pakistani, but gave no further information.

Zurawa, located near Libya’s border with Tunisia, is a favoured site for migrant boat departures .

Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities – under pressure from Italy and the European Union – have begun to block departures.

More than 600,000 people are believed to have made the journey from Libya to Italy over the past four years.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli, Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Tunisian forces kill top aide of Al-Qaeda leader in Maghreb

January 21, 2018

 

Algerian Bilel Kobi was “the right arm of Abou Wadoud (Pictured)” (AFP)
TUNIS: Tunisian security forces have killed a top aide of Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an official source told Reuters.
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Tunisia has been on high alert since 2015, when Daesh gunmen killed dozens of foreign tourists in a museum in Tunis and on a beach in the resort city of Sousse.
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Algerian Bilel Kobi was “the right arm of Abou Wadoud” and was killed in an ambush near the Algerian border when on a mission to reorganize AQIM’s Tunisian branch following strikes by Tunisian forces against it, the source told Reuters.
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Separately, reports say Tunisians are still taking to streets since they ousted their longtime ruler in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings.
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Why, after so long, has the country been unable to tackle its problems?
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Unemployment, corruption and austerity measures in the 2018 budget have fueled widespread protests as the North African country marked the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
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While Tunisia has been praised as a model of democratic transition, post-revolution governments have struggled to improve living standards and tackle pervasive graft.
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“Work, bread and national dignity” — that was the slogan that rallied Tunisian protesters in 2011.
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But a growth rate that reached a moderate two percent in 2017 following years of stagnation, has barely dented the unemployment figures, which remain stubbornly above 15 percent — rising to 30 percent among young graduates.
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Political economist Med Dhia Hammami said investments since the revolution have been channelled to projects that yield profits rather than offer mass employment.
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“Most direct foreign investments in Tunisia are in the extractive sector — gas or oil — which doesn’t create jobs,” he said.
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“There is a focus on services, including tourism, which create very precarious and seasonal jobs, to the detriment of agriculture, for example.”
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If things continue as they are, he added, “we will find ourselves, like under Ben Ali, with growth at five percent and unemployment at 15-18 percent.”
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Adding to the pain of joblessness, prices grew by six percent in 2017 as the dinar slid against the dollar and new taxes kicked in.
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Many analysts expect further inflation this year.
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Tunisian government announces social reforms after week of unrest

January 14, 2018

AFP | 

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi attends a meeting with political parties, unions and employers on January 13, 2018 in Tunis, following unrest triggered by austerity measures. (AFP)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government on Saturday announced an increase in aid to the needy and improved health care as part of social reforms following a week of unrest triggered by austerity measures.

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Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi told reporters that monthly aid to needy families would rise from 150 dinars (50 euros) to between 180 and 210 dinars (60 and 70 euros).
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He said reforms which have been in the pipeline for several months would guarantee medical care for all Tunisians, without elaborating, and also provide housing to disadvantaged families.
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The announcement came after President Beji Caid Essebsi consulted with political parties, unions and employers.
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The North African country has been shaken by a wave of protests over poverty and unemployment during which hundreds of people were arrested before the unrest tapered off.
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“It’s a very advanced legal project, which was submitted to parliament and will be discussed over the next week,” said a government source who requested anonymity.
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At the opening of his consultations, Essebsi accused the foreign press of “amplifying” the social unrest and damaging the country’s image in its coverage of protests.
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The president said he would visit a disadvantaged neighborhood of Tunis that had been the scene of street protests.
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Tunisia, whose economy has been hit by a collapse in tourism revenues following a wave of jihadist attacks in 2015, has secured a 2.4-billion-euro ($2.9-billion) IMF loan in return for a reduction in its budget deficit and financial reforms.
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The two-hour crisis talks at the presidential palace brought together Essebsi, representatives of political parties, the powerful UGTT trade union and the UTICA employers’ federation.
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“We discussed the general situation in the country and the reforms, especially socio-economic, that must be adopted to overcome the current problems,” UTICA head Wided Bouchamaoui told reporters.
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Proposals were raised “to pull out of this tension” without scrapping a contested 2018 budget, said Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist movement Ennahda in Tunisia’s ruling coalition, without elaborating.
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UTICA and UGTT shared the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for their work during Tunisia’s transition toward democracy after the revolution.
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The demonstrations broke out ahead of Sunday’s seventh anniversary of the toppling of veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a revolt that sparked uprisings across the Arab region.
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The trigger for the protests on January 7 was the budget imposing tax hikes after a year of rising prices.
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A man in his 40s died in unrest on Monday night in the northern town of Tebourba, though police have insisted they did not kill him.
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Interior ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani on Saturday said a total of 803 people suspected of taking part in acts of violence, theft and looting were arrested this week.
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Some 97 security forces and members of civil protection units were also injured, he said. There was no immediate toll for the number of protesters injured in the unrest.
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Calm returned to the country on Thursday night and there was “no attack against public or private property” in the night of Friday to Saturday, Chibani said.
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AFP correspondents reported one small protest overnight Friday in the central city of Sidi Bouzid — the cradle of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising — and said police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
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Tunisia is considered a rare success story of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in the North African country in 2011 and spread across the region, toppling autocrats.
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But the authorities have failed to resolve the issues of poverty and unemployment.
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“These demonstrations reveal the anger felt by the same people who mobilized in 2011 and got nothing in terms of social and economic rights,” said political analyst Olfa Lamloum.
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Protests are common in Tunisia in January when people mark the anniversary of the revolution that ousted Ben Ali.
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This year, the country has seen rising anger after the government adopted the 2018 budget which includes hikes in value-added tax, on mobile phones and real estate as well as in social contributions.

Opposition leaders among 150 detained in Tunisia

January 13, 2018

 

Tunisian protesters take to the streets in Siliana, some 130 kms south of Tunis, late on January 11, 2018. (AFP)
TUNIS: Tunisian authorities arrested another 150 people including local opposition leaders over unrest against price and tax rises that prompted troop deployments to restive towns, and activists called for renewed rallies at the weekend.
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Protests, some violent, flared across Tunisia on Monday, when one protester was killed, before ebbing on Thursday. Protesters have burned dozens of state buildings, prompting the government to send the army into several cities and towns.
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Activists and opposition politicians appealed for fresh demonstrations in the capital, Tunis, on Friday and on Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the toppling of authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
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On Thursday, unrest was limited to sporadic clashes in the northern city of Siliana, in Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia and Douz in the south of the North African country.
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“The protests have declined and there was no damage, but last night the police arrested 150 people involved in rioting in the past few days, bringing the total number of detainees to 778,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said. Sixteen extremists were among those detained, he said.
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Three local leaders of the Popular Front, the main opposition bloc, were detained in Gafsa for allegedly setting fire to a government building, a judicial source said.
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The Popular Front said its leaders had been targeted in a political campaign that was “reproducing the methods of the oppressive Ben Ali regime.” Party members had also been arrested in Mahdia and Karbariya, it said.
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The protests draw on anger over price and tax increases included in this year’s budget that took effect on Jan. 1. The government has blamed the opposition and “troublemakers” for stoking unrest, a charge the opposition has denied. The government has vowed not to back down on the austerity measures, taken to satisfy foreign lenders.
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Prices have increased for fuel and some consumer goods, while taxes on cars, phone calls, the Internet, hotel accommodation and other items have also gone up.
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Tunisia appears to have little scope to back away austerity. The International Monetary Funds says Tunisia is committed to “decisive action” to reform its economy before the IMF reviews the payment of its next loan tranche.
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Last year, the Washington-based IMF agreed a four-year loan program worth about $2.8 billion with Tunisia, but tied to economic reforms.
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The 2018 budget also raises customs taxes on some imports, and the Tunis government is trying to cut the public sector wage bill through voluntary redundancies.
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While Tunisia is held up by some as the only democratic success story among countries swept up in the Arab Spring, it has had nine governments since Ben Ali’s overthrow, none of which have been able to resolve deep-rooted economic problems.

 

Tunisia: More than 600 people arrested in a week of protest as anger at austerity measures, unemployment, poverty boils — “The region is totally marginalised.”

January 12, 2018

AFP

© Faouzi Dridi, AFP | Tunisian protesters take to the streets in Siliana, some 130 kms south of Tunis, late on January 11 as anger over austerity measures erupted into unrest.

Video by Lilia BLAISE

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-01-12

Sporadic unrest continued to shake parts of Tunisia Thursday, as authorities said more than 600 people had been arrested in a week of protest as anger at austerity measures boils over on the streets.

Tunisia, whose 2011 revolt sparked the Arab Spring, has been convulsed with sometimes violent demonstrations since late Monday that have seen protesters clash with security forces and left dozens injured.

The North African country is seen as a rare success story of the uprisings seven years ago that toppled autocrats across the region, but its failure to tackle poverty and unemployment have stirred economic resentment.

In the latest violence young people in the northern town of Siliana hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces, who responded with tear gas, an AFP correspondent said.

Police detained 328 people on Wednesday for theft, looting, arson and blocking roads, the interior ministry said Thursday, after arresting more than 280 people over the previous two days.

Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said the violence was less intense than in previous days.

Twenty-one members of the security forces were injured, according to Chibani, who said no civilians were hurt.

AFP correspondents said most areas were calm late Thursday, and the presidency said the main political parties, unions and business organisations will meet on Saturday to discuss the situation.

Tunisia is often seen as having had a relatively smooth transition since the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

But Tunisians have expressed frustration since the start of the year over austerity measures expected to further increase prices in a struggling economy.

LATEST PROTESTS FIT GOVERNMENT NARRATIVE, BUT THAT’S NOT THE WHOLE STORY

The country has introduced hikes in value-added tax and social contributions as part of a tough new budget.

Activists campaigning against the austerity measures have called for a huge protest on Friday.

Political scientist Olfa Lamloum called the measures “the straw that breaks the camel’s back”.

“Young people are disappointed with the revolution, especially because of the high cost of living,” she said.

‘Nostalgia spreading’

Lamloum pointed to “deepening social inequalities” highlighted by official figures showing rising poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, particularly among young people.

In Tebourba, where a man died during the first unrest overnight Monday to Tuesday, the mood was grim.

“The political class is responsible for all this,” said teacher Fatma Ben Rezayel in Tebourba on Thursday. “The region is totally marginalised.”

She deplored that “unemployed young people fed up with their poor lives” were being branded criminals by the authorities.

The unrest started with peaceful protests last week, but escalated into clashes with police overnight Monday to Tuesday.

Unrest hit several areas including the central city of Kasserine, and Siliana, Tebourba and Thala in the north.

Scuffles also broke out in some Tunis neighbourhoods.

On Thursday, several dozen unemployed people protested in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 uprisings.

In Kasserine, youths tried to block roads with burning tyres and hurled stones at police, another AFP correspondent said.

The main police station in the northern town of Thala was also torched, Chibani said.

In Tebourba police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters, a resident said.

One protester recalled what had happened to him.

“I wanted to express my anger about being poor, and they responded with tear gas at my head,” said Mohamed Rahmani, 21, his head in bandages because of 10 stitches.

Protest calls

Rail services were cancelled in some areas after a train was attacked in southern Tunis on Wednesday, local media reported.

The opposition Popular Front party, accused by the authorities of supporting the rioters, urged the government to “find solutions for young Tunisians”.

“Peaceful demonstrations are part of the democratic equation, but damaging public property and harming citizens is illegal,” said Hamma Hammami, spokesman for the leftist party.

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since 2015 following a series of deadly jihadist attacks.

Conflict analysts International Crisis Group (ICG) warned the country’s political class Thursday against succumbing to “authoritarian temptation”.

While politicians had so far resisted the urge to backtrack on reforms, the ICG said “in the context of an economic slump, the nostalgia for a strong state, like the one that the former regime claimed to defend, is spreading”.

Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

The uprising began in December 2010 after street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and later died in a protest over unemployment and police harassment.

At a cafe in Tebourba on Thursday, 41-year-old Sami shared coffee and a cigarette with a friend.

“There’s no work and no future here,” he told AFP. “I don’t have a dinar on me.”

(AFP)

Tunisia deploys army, makes 300 arrests as violent unrest continues

January 11, 2018

Riot policemen hide behind a wall during anti-government protests in Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 10, 2018. Tunisian authorities say 300 people were arrested and dozens of others injured across the country in recent days as violent protests against government-imposed price hikes spread to more cities and regions. (AP)

TUNIS: Tunisian protesters burned down a regional national security headquarters near the Algerian border, prompting authorities to send in troops after police retreated, witnesses said, as unrest over prices and taxes continued nationwide.

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Over 300 protesters were arrested overnight and the army was deployed in several cities to help quell violent protests in Tunisia seven years after the overthrow of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in the first of the Arab Spring revolts.
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In Thala, near the Algerian border, soldiers deployed after crowds torched the region’s national security building, forcing police to retreat from the town, witnesses told Reuters.
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Tunisia’s unity government — which includes extremists, secular parties and independents — has portrayed the unrest as driven by criminal elements, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has accused the opposition of fueling dissent.
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Rejecting that accusation, Tunisia’s main opposition bloc, the Popular Front, called for a major protest in Tunis on Sunday to coincide with the seventh anniversary of Ben Ali’s fall.
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Tunisia’s Football Association said it was postponing all weekend matches because of the disturbances.
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Anti-government protests have flared in a number of Tunisian cities and towns — including the tourist resort of Sousse, since Monday against price and tax rises imposed to cut a ballooning deficit and satisfy international lenders.
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While Tunisia is regarded as the only democratic success story in the Arab world, it has also had nine governments since Ben Ali’s overthrow, none of which have been able to deal with growing economic problems.
The army has been deployed in several cities, including Sousse, Kebeli and Bizerte, to protect government buildings that have become a target for protesters.
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“Three hundred and thirty people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery were arrested last night,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said. That brought the total number of detainees since the protests began to around 600.
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“What is happening is crime, not protests. They steal, intimidate people and threaten private and public property,” he added.
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Many of the protests have been peaceful, however, with demonstrators expressing their anger and frustration over deepening economic hardship since the 2011 uprising.
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“It is true that some protesters burned and stole during last night’s protests, but the rulers steal and destroy Tunisia in the morning and at night with their frustrating decisions,” said a teacher who was shopping in the capital and only gave his first name, Mohamed.
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“We expected things to improve after Ben Ali was ousted, but it seems that after seven years of the revolution, we’ll give our salaries each month to Prime Minister Chahed for him to spend them,” he said.
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The 2011 revolt and two major Islamist militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which accounts for eight percent of Tunisia’s economic activity.
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Unemployment nationally exceeds 15 percent, and is much higher in some marginalized regions of the interior. Annual inflation rose to 6.4 percent in December, the highest rate since July 2014.
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Dozens hurt, 200 arrested in new Tunisia unrest

January 10, 2018
© Sofiene HAMDAOUI / AFP | Tunisian protestors throw stones towards security forces in Tunis’ Djebel Lahmer district early on January 10, 2018 after price hikes ignited protests in the North African country.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-01-10

More than 200 people were arrested and dozens hurt during clashes in several parts of Tunisia, the interior ministry said Wednesday, after a second night of unrest driven by anger over austerity measures.

 Image result for tunisia, map

Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani told local radio that 49 police officers were wounded during clashes across the country and that 206 “troublemakers” were arrested.

Properties were damaged, he said, including a branch of the Carrefour supermarket chain in the suburbs of Tunis that was looted.

Police and army forces were deployed in several cities during the night, including in Tebourba 30 kilometres (20 miles) west of the capital Tunis, where hundreds of young people took to the streets after the funeral of a man in his 40s who died in unrest on Monday night.

 Image result for tunisia, map

Police have insisted they did not kill the man. The results of an autopsy have not been made public.

Unrest was also reported in the southern city of Gafsa, in Kasserine in central Tunisia and in Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Tunisia has seen several days of demonstrations after activists and politicians denounced hikes in value-added tax and social contributions introduced at the start of the year as a tough new budget was implemented.

Protests are common in the North African state in the month of January, when Tunisians mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that unseated dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The country has been hailed for its relatively smooth democratic transition but seven years after the revolution tensions over economic grievances are high.

(AFP)

Protests over price hikes in Tunisia turn deadly

January 9, 2018

AFP

© Sofiene Hamdaoui, AFP | Protests over rising prices have erupted across Tunisia.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2018-01-09

Protests hit several parts of Tunisia where dozens of people were arrested and one man died in unclear circumstances amid anger over rising prices, authorities said Tuesday.

Several buildings were damaged during overnight scuffles with police, the interior ministry said, after activists and political parties denounced new austerity measures expected to increase the cost of living.

Authorities are to carry out an autopsy on Tuesday to determine the cause of death of the 43-year-old man in the town of Tebourba, west of Tunis, spokesmen for the interior and health ministries said.

The interior ministry denied he had been killed by police, saying the man’s body showed no sign of any violence. Spokesman Khalifa Chibani said the man suffered from “respiratory problems”.

Across the country, 11 officers were wounded including after being hit by stones and Molotov cocktails, while four police vehicles were damaged, National Security chief Walid Ben Hkima said.

Tyres ablaze and tear gas

He denounced “acts of violence and ransacking”.

In the central impoverished city of Kasserine, dozens of youths set tyres ablaze and threw stones at members of the security forces, who retaliated with tear gas, an AFP reporter said.

In the central town of Sidi Bouzid, epicentre of the 2011 uprising that unseated dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, rocks and tyres blocked the roads, another AFP correspondent said.

Dozens of arrests

On Monday, Tunisians held a peaceful protest in the town against price hikes following austerity measures including increased value-added taxes and social security contributions.

An interior ministry spokesman said at least 44 people had been arrested, including 16 in Kasserine and 18 in working-class areas near Tunis.

The unrest “had nothing to do with democracy or social demands”, Khalifa Chibani told the Shems FM radio station.

A car pound in Kasserine was ransacked, he said, and buildings of the security forces damaged in the southern town of Hamma.

Several groups called for protests in the Tunis city centre on Tuesday starting from midday (1100 GMT).

Protests are common in the North African country in the month of January, when Tunisians mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that led to Ben Ali’s ouster.

Tensions have been running high seven years since the uprising, including over the new austerity measures implemented on January 1.

On Sunday, Tunisian police dispersed a protest in the capital against the price hikes.

In December, unemployed protesters and activists marched through the streets of Sidi Bouzid angry over the lack of jobs and opportunities that continue to plague the central town.

On December 17, 2010, street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Sidi Bouzid in a deadly protest over unemployment and police harassment that spiralled into Ben Ali’s overthrow.

(AFP)

Iranian Regime Has Learned to Fear Protesters

December 31, 2017

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Demonstrations have a habit of being infectious. What happens next depends on how brutally the regime responds

By Zvi Bar’el Dec 31, 2017 9:15 AM
Haaretz

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University in Iran, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017

University students attend a protest inside Tehran University in Iran, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 /AP

Protests have their own infectious dynamics. The regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria learned this pathology the hard way, just as Iranian regimes over the generations have learned to be afraid of such protests.

The problem with demonstrations is that their beginnings say nothing about their future developments. The protests began in the city of Mashhad on Wednesday infected Kermanshah, which suffered from a deathly earthquake this year, and from there moved on to the capital Tehran and other cities. But will they be halted by a series of arrests and the use of routine means for dispersing demonstrations, such as tear gas, arrests and strict punishments? Or will the protests gain momentum and repeat the shocking demonstrations of 2009, which Iran still has not recovered?

Local protests are nothing new in Iran, both before and after the nuclear deal. Teachers, municipal workers and government-owned company employees have come out in recent years to protest and strike, mostly for economic reasons such as unpaid salaries or harsh work conditions. Slogans against Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who has not yet made good on his campaign promises, have not been rare. U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel brought thousands of Iranians out into the streets. Kurds and Arabs in Iran too have demonstrated for equal rights. Each time, the regime has managed to placate the protesters – usually by increasing wages, holding negotiations that generally agreed to most of the protesters demands, or by using an iron fist against the nationalist protesters.

 

This time it seems the causes are more general and they touch on Iran’s deep and chronic ills: an unemployment rate that never falls below 12 percent, rising prices, declining subsidies, higher taxes, corruption, and Iranian involvement in Syria and Yemen. Most importantly is the lack of an economic future, despite the removal of most of the economic sanctions on Iran as part of the nuclear deal.

The protests are not attributed to any specific movement or political faction, at least for now. They may be directed against Rohani, but slogans like “Death to the Dictator” have been heard, directed at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This means the protests are disconnected from their political context.

The reformers, who have not yet given the demonstrations their blessings, can demonstrate their strength among the public against the system of government that places restraints on progress and human rights; meanwhile the conservatives can point to powerlessness of Rohani, their rival.

Both of these sides of the government could benefit from these protests. Rohani can use them as leverage for the need to improving human rights and advancing cultural reforms, “to preserve the stability of the government.” At the same time the conservative leadership in the government can use the protests as an excuse to neutralize Rohani’s authority. Despite the battle between the two sides of the regime, paradoxically, the protests tie together the ruling elites on both sides into a combined effort to try and reach understandings that will calm the fury.

Immediate steps, such as reducing taxes and increasing welfare allowances for the needy, are matters controlled by the regime. But structural changes in the economy like constructing large factories to hire the millions of unemployed and reducing Iranian involvement in foreign countries are long-term processes and do not exclusively depend on the government.

For example, Trump’s refusal to confirm that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement, and the debates over imposing further American sanctions have cooled the enthusiasm of investors and foreign nations from signing new agreements or carrying out understandings signed with Iran over the past two years.

Rohani may have succeeded in cutting inflation from about 35 percent in 2013 to only 9 percent in 2017; increased exports have led to a $30 billion surplus in the balance of trade; huge deals with Russia, China and Pakistan are expected to bring in tens of billions of dollars more and trade with the European Union has doubled to over $10 billion; but these agreements have still not translated into jobs and higher salaries.

Iran’s military achievements and its foreign policy, mostly in the Middle East, have given Iran the status of a mid-sized regional power. This may have strengthened Iran’s status internationally – but this has been seen as coming at the expense of welfare and quality of life among Iranian citizens, who are paying out of their own pockets for fighting in Yemen and Syria.

It is accepted that foreign policy, even when it is successful and strengthens “national pride,” cannot offset the failure of domestic policies, especially when it comes to economics. It is not superfluous to remember that Iran itself demonstrated how the Shah’s foreign policy made an important contribution to the realization of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  At the same time, in comparison to the Iran-Iraq War, which cost about a million Iranian lives over 10 years – the present wars in Syria and Yemen have not turned into graveyards for Iranian soldiers, and the protests against them now are mostly based on economic and nationalist reasons. So we should not hold our breath waiting for the fall of the regime because of its involvement in regional wars.

The Iranian regime has so far avoided flooding the streets with the armed volunteers of the Basij, the paramilitary volunteer force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They have also not put the Revolutionary Guards themselves into action against the protesters. The geographic dispersion of the protests in cities all around the country could create the impression that the entire country is on fire, but the number of demonstrators in every city is relatively small and can be contained.

The continuation of the protests now depends on the way in which the regime plans it next moves, both in the political struggle between the ruling elites and with the public.

Zvi Bar’el
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/iran/.premium-1.832105