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TUNISIA: Apparent suicide triggers youth protests against unemployment


The apparent suicide of a 24-year-old unemployed man sparked clashes between young protesters and police in the Tunisian central town of Sidi Bouzid, 165 miles south of the capital, Tunis, this week.

A member of the Tunisian General Union for Labour told AFP that Hussein Nagi Felhi was electrocuted after climbing a high-voltage electric pole. The state news agency, TAP, confirmed the death without referring to it as a suicide.

Union member Ali Zarei said that Felhi shouted "no for misery, no for unemployment" before ending his life by touching the pole energized with 30,000 megawatts. The death triggered protests met with tear gas after scores of jobless youths hurled stones at police and set fire to an administrative building in a nearby town. 

Unemployment in Tunisia, especially among university graduates, has been a persistent problem amid the North African country's economic growth. Official figures state that 14% of Tunisia's workforce is idled. But analysts says the real figure is much higher. 

Felhi's death comes at the end of a turbulent week in Sidi Bouzid, where hundreds of unemployed youths smashed windows, damaged cars and clashed with police after the attempted suicide of another man Friday.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate, set himself on fire outside city hall after police confiscated fruits and vegetables he sold at a street stand, claiming he didn’t have a vendor's license. He sustained third-degree burns and is in a Sidi Bouzid hospital.

Scores of protesters were detained amid the ensuing riots. Government officials said the clashes have been exaggerated by political opponents.

"As much as we regret this painful incident, we are outraged by attempts to use this isolated incident, to take it out of its true context and to exploit it for unhealthy political ends," an unnamed official was quoted by TAP as saying on Monday.

"This case is being turned with the aim of manipulation and provocation, into a case of human rights and freedoms and putting in doubt the achievements of development in the Sidi Bouzid region," the source added.

Protests are scarce in Tunisia, which has been under the authoritarian rule of President Zine Al Abidine ben Ali since 1987. Despite maintaining relative political and financial stability, Ben Ali has often been criticized by international human rights organizations for crushing any form of political dissent and oppressing freedom of the press.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine ben Ali. Credit: Reuters

Comments () | Archives (6)

I hope that this kind of events find an echo in the US, because arab countries are fed up with corruption, and this lead some arab people to violence, i think that forcing this regimes to give more freedom to their people will help to bring more peace.

Long live the people of the south!!! Please open your eyes to the reality in Tunisia. Lots of poverty and corruption. We urge all peace and equality loving people to support the voices of freedom from the deep south of Tunisia. It is high time we stood for what is right.

Not to make light of this young man's death, but 30,000 megawatts cannot be the capacity of the pole he touched--can it? Grand Coulee Dam produces 2000 megawatts. I don't think the Tunisians are regularly generating 15 times that amount of power.

Please fact check this number. Afterwards please delete my comment, as it reflects poorly on the underlying nature of this story.

It's about time Tunisians stood up for the brutal undemocratic regime and the mafia stealing the resources of the country for over two decades. Tunisia has so much potential to become prosperous, democratic, and free if this current movement gets international support, especially after Wikileaks exposed the true face of Ben Ali and his group.

Against president and family of his wife ( mafia trabelsi ) ... we will take our rights with peace or with violence ... god bless tunisia and the people


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