Tunisian price hikes, unemployment protests leave one dead

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Tunisian price hikes, unemployment protests leave one dead
by Reuters, Tuesday, 09 January 2018

One person was killed during clashes between security forces and protesters in a Tunisian town, government said, as demonstrations over rising prices and tax increases spread in the North African country.

A man was killed during a protest against government austerity measures in Tebourba, west of Tunis, the interior ministry said in a statement. He had chronic breathing problems and died due to suffocation from inhaling tear gas, it said.

The protest turned violent when security forces tried stopping some youths from burning down a government building, witnesses said. Five people were wounded and taken to hospital, state news agency TAP said.

Tunisia, widely seen in the West as the only democratic success among nations where “Arab Spring” revolts took place in 2011, is suffering increasing economic hardship.

Anger has been building since government said from January 1, it would increase the price of gas oil, some goods and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items, part of austerity measures agreed with its foreign lenders.

The 2018 budget also raises customs taxes on some products imported from abroad, including cosmetics, and some agricultural products.
The economy has been in crisis since the 2011 uprising unseated government and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged tourism, which comprises eight percent of gross domestic product. Tunisia is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to speed up policy changes and help the economy recover.

Violent protests spread to at least 10 towns.

There was also a protest turning violent in the capital, residents said. Security forces dispersed small protests in Tunis late on Sunday.

On Monday, about 300 people took to the streets in Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country’s Arab Spring revolution, carrying banners with slogans denouncing high prices.

A lack of tourists and new foreign investors pushed Tunisia’s trade deficit up by 23.5% year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2017 to a record $5.8 billion, official data showed at the end of December.

Concerns about the rising deficit hurt the dinar currency, sending it to 3.011 against the euro on Monday, breaking the psychologically important three dinar mark for the first time, traders said.

The currency is likely to weaken further, said Tunisian financial risk expert Mourad Hattab.

“The sharp decline of the dinar threatens to deepen the trade deficit and make debt service payments tighter, which will increase Tunisia’s financial difficulties,” he said.

Hattab said the dinar may fall to 3.3 against the euro in the coming months because of high demand for foreign currency and little expectation of intervention from the authorities.

Last year, former Finance Minister Lamia Zribi said the central bank would reduce interventions so that the dinar steadily declined in value, but it would prevent any dramatic slide.

The central bank denied plans to liberalise the currency but Hattab said Monday’s decline showed there was an “undeclared float” of the dinar.

A weaker currency could further drive up the cost of imported food after the annual inflation rate rose to 6.4% in December, its highest rate since July 2014, from 6.3% in November, data showed on Monday.

http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.p...e-one-dead&catid=52:Human Security&Itemid=114
 

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Arrests Grow as Tunisian Army Cracks Down on Protesters
January 12, 2018
by Lisa Schlein

37304D8F-403B-4974-ADD9-1B6A2B2AB623_w1023_r1_s.jpg

FILE - Tunisian security forces detain a protester on the outskirts of Tunis, Jan. 10, 2018.

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights office says it is concerned about the large number of arrests as Tunisian authorities crack down on protesters demonstrating against price and tax.

The protests, which began last weekend, reportedly are turning more violent, prompting a sharp rise in the number of arrests. Nearly 800 people have been arrested since Monday, about 200 between the ages of 15 and 20, according to U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville.

"We call on the authorities to ensure that people are not arrested in an arbitrary manner, and that all those detained are treated with full respect for their due process rights and either charged or promptly released," Colville said. "The authorities must ensure that those exercising their rights to peaceful expression and assembly are not prevented from doing so."

Colville says his office has no reports that those arrested are being ill-treated.

"But, it is something we look out for because there have been reports in the recent past in other situations of ill-treatment of people in detention," he added. "So, it is something we would look out for very closely. At this point, we have not had any specific reports."

Sunday is the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, which ushered in the so-called Arab Spring — a series of protest movements calling for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Tunisian protesters say none of the objectives of the revolt have been achieved. As concern rises that events this weekend might get out of control, Colville says it is particularly important to ensure demonstrators are able to protest peacefully.


https://www.voanews.com/a/arrests-grow-tunisia-army-protesters/4205157.html
 

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Unemployment is a universal issue not only in Tunisia. I hope this ends peacefully and doesn't turn into violence. Any idea on the unemployment rate over there?
 

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Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution commemorations clash with anti-government protests
As crowds began to gather in the capital’s Bourguiba Avenue on a chilly Sunday morning, it was not the demonstration of national unity for which the government might have hoped

by Gareth Browne
January 14, 2018
Updated: January 15, 2018 07:34 AM


The Tunisian government billed Sunday as a day to mark the anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution, a day when Tunisians would come together in song, dance and laughter to mark seven years since the ousting of former president Zine Abedine Ben Ali.

But as crowds began to gather in the capital’s Bourguiba Avenue on a chilly Sunday morning, it was not the demonstration of national unity for which the government might have hoped. There were the breakdancing teenagers, and recitals of the national anthem, but down the avenue, as the speaker reverb faded, the bellowed chants could be heard.

“The people want the fall off the budget!” — an echo of “The people want the fall of the regime!” call that came to define the Jasmine Revolution of 2011 and indeed much of the Arab uprising.

Several groups had announced plans to demonstrate at the festival, not only against the controversial budget, the initial cause of countrywide protests, but in rejection of a number of reforms announced by the government in an effort to appease the disgruntled masses.

In response to widespread protests and increasing pressure, president Beji Caid Essebsi dispatched himself to the impoverished Tunis district of Ettadhamen. He had never set foot in the place before.

On Saturday, the minister of social affairs, Mohamed Trablesi, announced an aid package of 170 million dinars (Dh250.47m) and a number of reforms. "This will reach about 250,000 families," he declared. "It will help the poor and the middle class.”

The reforms, he said, included medical care for all Tunisians and social housing for the disadvantaged. Without giving further details, he said the reforms had already been planned "for months."

But in a country where many of the poorest are struggling even to put food on the table, the package, which averages out to around $27 per family was seen as little more than an empty gesture, and few were convinced. “They are trying to buy us off, and not even for a good price,” said Lina Al Soussi, 32, as she marched along Bourguiba Avenue.

Tareq Tookebry, 29, who runs a civil society organisation, took a similar view. “Why, only now, is the president pretending to be a saviour? We have turmoil, and suddenly he shows up to show people he is trying to fix everything. The president is no saviour; he is just thinking about the 2019 elections. They are saying nothing; it is not real reform.”

Amira Hamad, 25, an unemployed university graduate, was equally weary of the reforms. "They will do the minimum they can get away with, so now we will starve just four days a week, instead of five.” She added, "The change is about more than just a few dinars extra per week. The system is broken.”

The protests erupted last week in response to the introduction of a drastic new finance law, which saw subsidies cut for staple foods and taxes raised on other basics, such as mobile phone credit and petrol raised.

Small but vocal protests grew through Sunday afternoon, though rather than one unified call, they were a miscellany of different groups, all with differing demands. A group of young men stood on the steps outside the Théâtre Municipal de Tunis, chanting solidarity with Palestine. There was a procession by Manich m'samih, a group opposed to amnesty for former Ben Ali regime figures. They chanted, “Where, where, where is the list … we’ve been waiting seven years, we do not forgive” — referring to a list of businessmen and public officials known to have been involved in corruption which has never been published in full.

Mr Tookebry is suspicious of the country's current leadership. "The old regime is trying to re-establish itself in the new political climate. Many of the ministers are from Ben Ali’s regime. Too many symbols of the old regime are in government. The old regime has come back through the door as if nothing happened and now it is stronger.”

But it was not all anti-government chants, Ennahda supporters chuckled as a comedian took to the main stage and blasted those who claim to be broke, but had money to buy drugs and cake — a swipe at those involved in the past week’s riots and protests. Hundreds packed in front of the UGTT union headquarters for a speech in commemoration of 2011 by union head Nouredine Taboubi.

As the crowds thinned, a hard-core of young men remained, setting off flares, and banging drums. Clapping and screaming “Down with the budget!” at one point they charged towards riot police. But the police line stood strong. One man was dragged away, his face turning white, such is the fear of the police system here.

Sunday’s protests were far from the mass demonstrations many had hoped for, but the variety of grievances on show run deep, and even as the crowd disperses, those grievances remain. Sunday would not be the last day of protest in Tunisia, Ms Al Soussi promised.

"We don’t have to win today. Every day we have a new opportunity to win, we will keep coming back until we get what we deserve”.

Reflecting on the situation, Mr Tookebery said, “We, as Tunisian youth, are not responsible enough. It’s time to start relying on ourselves. Many of us are waiting for a saviour, but the government gives us nothing. We have to save ourselves.”

https://www.thenational.ae/world/me...-clash-with-anti-government-protests-1.695362
 

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Austerity is not the right fix for Tunisia's circumstances
Damien McElroy examines the protests and unrest coursing through Tunisia seven years after the tumult of the Arab Spring

by Damien McElroy
January 13, 2018


In a gloomy dusk even the desire to cross Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis on the day after the Ben Ali regime fell was something of an act of faith.

A caretaker administration was gingerly attempting to oversee the transfer of power. There was an evening curfew and it was holding with few challenges.

Soldiers on the main tree-lined road were relaxed enough to allow a hardy few, our hands held high, to walk slowly over the central reservation for a pre-arranged dinner.

Everyone knew what was at stake for Tunisia when the country turfed out the man who had held power for two-and-a-half decades.

Less clear was what the country could gain from risking all for a new of type of politics.

Seven years on, there are new street protests rocking the nation. It is increasingly clear just how much the odds are stacked against Tunisia making a success of its democracy.

Far from capitalising on freedom, Tunisia is a beleaguered mid-income nation struggling to hold its few selling points.

With negligible international backing, the youthful population has never had the benefits of large-scale investments that would transform the economy.

Advantages since the 2011 Jasmine revolution should have set Tunisia apart from other Arab states that faced the same challenges.

A quirk of the proportional representation system denied the Muslim Brotherhood an opening to form a majority government. The MB-backed Al Nadha party and its leader Rachid Ghannouchi chose to set aside its religious agenda to prioritise civilian political ambitions.

Mr Ghannouchi has sought to make his political position into an international model. With the help of international image consultants, his party has wooed opinion-makers to promote its approach.

Within Tunisia, frequent changes in the composition of governments has thwarted a schism with the military.

Other elements of normality have also been maintained. Despite ISIL-inspired attacks, tourism has continued, albeit at a much lower level than before. Agriculture remains the rural bedrock and the Mediterranean economy still absorbs some exports.

Tunisians need only look across the border to Libya to see the consequences of a power vacuum. Or they can peer into Algeria to see the claustrophobic effect of too much control.

Internal politics are, however, bleak.

How to resolve the issues that have forced its citizens back to the streets?

Tunisia benefited from the modernist agenda of Habib Bourguiba in the years that followed independence.

While authoritarian, he prioritised education and was masterful enough to secure tolerance for his reforms within an Islamic context.

But there is a saying that a little bit of education is a dangerous thing.


Under Ben Ali there were plenty of institutes that responded to population growth by churning out more graduates. That set the seeds for Ben Ali’s downfall.

The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, on December 17, 2010 sparked the protests that saw the president flee seven years ago today. Bouazizi held a diploma from a technical college. It was worthless in the job market but created a debt trap that held back his family.

The slight that cost his livelihood triggered a violent personal reaction that reverberated far wider than he could have known.

This newspaper reported last month that there was a self-immolation every three days in Tunisia. Despair continues to contribute to a clear trend.

Any form of politics that provided livelihood improvements to address this problem would be transformational. Tunisia’s fix is austerity, which cannot realistically create significant economic gains while internal resources are so stretched and the state cannot spend its way to prosperity.

The situation amounts to an indictment of the international economic framework. It purports to provide a virtuous circle of growth and cross-border solidarity yet neglects a tranche of strategic nations.

Rules that govern foreign aid are prejudiced against large-scale spending in countries that are not desperately poor. These are just the places that could most benefit from market-focused international coordination.

Helping countries like Tunisia has an outsized strategic effect. It is demonstrably important that European states are able to bolster incomes on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. This is not just for security reasons. The migration pressures emanating from Africa are a vast challenge.

The OECD rules on development aid are heavily skewed against interventions in countries that fit Tunisia’s profile. This has consequences for how developed nations have engaged in its crisis.

It also has ramifications for international lenders and other multilateral bodies.

The result is that the impact of foreign actors can only be muted. Historical trends bear down on the struggling politicians. The country cannot fall back on moderating influences.

Tunisia has had a remarkable political transformation. It sets a dangerous example that it cannot deliver any of the benefits to its population.

https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/...ight-fix-for-tunisia-s-circumstances-1.694952