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Vol. 75/No. 6      February 14, 2011

Tunisian gov’t fails
to quell protests
(front page)
Two weeks after mass demonstrations forced Tunisia’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and many of his relatives to flee the country, the acting government has been unsuccessful in quelling protests by working people and youth.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced a new reshuffling of the cabinet on January 27, removing the hated foreign, defense, and interior ministers. At least three former officials of Ben Ali’s regime still hold key roles in the “transitional” government, including Ghannouchi, interim president Foued Mebazaa, and foreign minister Ahmed Ounais. Ghannouchi has pledged new elections in six months.

The government previously announced a series of measures aimed at placating protesters: cheaper transport fees and a small monthly stipend for unemployed college graduates; compensation for families of those killed by the cops during the uprising; and dissolution of the agency that was in charge of censorship.

The Spanish daily El País reports that tens of thousands demonstrated January 26 in the port city of Sfax demanding Ghannouchi resign. That same day workers in Sidi Bousid, where the protests against Ben Ali began, held a one-day general strike. Strikers chanted, “Kick out the corrupt ones.” Similar rallies were held in Mahdia, Thala, Kasserine, and Selian, according to the Tunisian daily Le Temps.

Workers around the country are organizing unions, often outside the structures of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the only legal union federation during the dictatorship. The federation at first opposed but then joined the demonstrations that led to Ben Ali’s overthrow.

While the national UGTT leaders have not accepted positions in the cabinet, they are supporting Ghannouchi. UGTT official Abed Briki told El País that “now is not the time to remove the directors of government bodies because we need to preserve stability.”

Le Temps reports that construction workers demonstrated outside the Tunisian national television offices in Tunis carrying signs demanding a wage increase, the right to social security coverage, and the right to organize a union.

Hundreds of deaf and hearing-impaired people demonstrated January 27 demanding the creation of special schools for the deaf and public accommodations to meet their needs.

The following day riot police used tear gas to clear out the 24-hour sit-in in front of Ghannouchi’s office that had been demanding his resignation. The protesters came to the capital as part of a “liberation caravan” that traveled from the central part of the country the week before.

The government has tried to gain support from middle class forces, appealing to fears about social and economic instability. Shopkeeper Choukri Benzekri told Reuters he had confidence in the transitional government. “We waited 23 years,” he said. “We can wait six months for this government to organize an election.”

But the protests continue, taking on more and more social questions. On January 29 women marched through Tunis to demand equal rights. Several hundred people also marched in the capital the previous day demanding freedom of religion and the repeal of anti-terrorism laws.

More than 1 million Tunisians live outside the country because of the lack of jobs in Tunisia. In spite of one of the highest per capita incomes in the Arab world, unemployment among youth is as high as 40 percent.

Solidarity demonstrations with the Tunisian people have taken place around the world, including in Geneva, Paris, Ottawa, and New York. In Tunis protesters gathered outside the Egyptian embassy backing the struggle in Egypt for the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak regime.
Related articles:
Mass protests shake dictatorship in Egypt
Economic, social crisis fuels upheaval
Solidarity with workers of Egypt
Actions across the globe back struggle in Egypt
Washington has backed Mubarak for decades  
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