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