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Tunisians plan protests in birthplace of Arab Spring

Three years ago on December 17, the self-immolation of 26-year-old street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi unleashed a wave of protest across Tunisia and was the fuse for uprisings across the region.

SIDI BOUZID, TUNISIA // Tunisians are planning a day of peaceful protests in the birthplace of the Arab Spring on Tuesday to vent their anger at new rulers they say have failed to improve their lives. The call for protests comes just after the Tunisian Industry Minister, Mehdi Jomaa, was selected as premier-designate to lead the country out of crisis.

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.

But three years on, unemployment in Tunisia remains stuck at 15 per cent, 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.

It is against this backdrop that parties on Saturday chose Mr Jomaa to head a government of independent figures aiming to rescue the North African nation from months of political stalemate.

According to a deal clinched between Tunisia’s main parties in October, the new premier now has 15 days to form a government.

However, this time frame has not been confirmed, and Mr Jomaa himself has not yet made any public comment.

He also faces the weighty task of organising elections in 2014.

Mr Jomaa is a 51-year-old engineer with no stated political affiliation. As the industry minister, he lobbied European firms to invest in the country, plagued by economic woes since the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali nearly three years ago.

But he has also taken the unpopular step of backing a decision to raise fuel prices next year.

The Ennahda party led a coalition government since Tunisia held its first ever democratic elections in October 2011.

According to Mahmoud Baroudi of the Democratic Alliance, an opposition movement to Ennahda, Mr Jomaa “is competent and independent enough to take on the post of premier”.

But another opposition party, Nidaa Tounes, which boycotted Saturday’s vote, rejected the idea of a premier who was part of the outgoing government.

Issam Chebbi, a leader of the party, said Jomaa would “not be a prime minister of consensus”.

If Mr Jomaa does succeed in forming a government of independents, the task of the new prime minister will be far from easy.

But the fact his roots are not hard set in the fractious world of Tunisian politics could in the end work in his favour.

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: December 15, 2013 04:00 AM



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