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Ben Ali warns demonstrators, promises jobs

By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 11/01/11

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The Tunisian government on Monday (January 10th) ordered the indefinite closing of all schools and universities in a move to calm tensions, which escalated over the weekend into new deadly riots in Tala, Kasserine and Regueb.

At least 35 people were killed in the protests, according to the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). The actual toll could be as high as 50, FIDH chief Souhayr Belhassen said.

As of press time, however, the government had confirmed 14 deaths, describing the protestors as "isolated individuals whose goal is to sabotage the country's facilities". The interior ministry said the security forces "were acting in self-defence".

In a speech to the nation on Monday evening, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali railed against protestors, while promising to create new jobs.

"Efforts will continue to employ the largest possible number of unemployed university graduates," Ben Ali said.

"This effort will also cover university graduates whose period of unemployment exceeds two years before 2012, yes, before 2012, and I undertake to do that. In this way, the total employment capacity during this period will increase to 300,000 new job opportunities."

However, the president also said, "The events were the work of masked gangs that attacked at night government buildings and even civilians inside their homes in a terrorist act that cannot be overlooked."

"To those who want to undermine the interests of this country or deceive our young people and sons, by pushing them to riots and chaos, we clearly say that the law will be the decisive factor," Ben Ali added.

Still, the president's speech failed to satisfy critics.

"We were disappointed, as the speech was not up to the expectations in view of the serious situation. We need urgent measures, the most important of which is to stop shooting at the direction of protestors," said Ahmed Brahim, Secretary-General of the opposition Ettajdid Movement.

"We support the enforcement of law that is implemented fairly. At the same time, we need urgent political solutions that would release freedoms and open dialogue with the representatives of different political parties and civil society," Brahim added.

Demonstrations broke out December 18th in Sidi Bouzid after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself aflame after his unlicensed vegetable and fruit stand was confiscated by authorities. Bouazizi died last week from his burns. His death aggravated the protests and they later extended to the city of Kasserine.

The Progressive Democratic Party also issued a statement, demanding that the interior ministry hold accountable those responsible for killings, put an end to the causes of tension, and open serious dialogue with different parties and national organisations.

There needs to be "just development, end to corruption and fair distribution of country's wealth", according to Abid Briki, a member of the executive bureau of the Tunisian General Labour Union.

Government reaction draws international condemnation

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern over the security situation in Tunisia and called for restraint, dialogue and respect of the freedom of expression.

"We deplore the violence and the death of civilians. We express our sympathy to the families of the victims," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU Commissioner for enlargement Stefan Fule said in a joint statement on Monday.

"We call for restraint in the use of force and for the respect of fundamental freedoms. In particular, we call for the immediate release from detention of bloggers, journalists, lawyers and other detained people who peacefully demonstrated in Tunisia," the statement said.

Responding to accusations of excessive force, Communications Minister Samir Laabidi told Al Jazeera that "authorities are now reviewing their development options and the message of protestors has been communicated".

"It's about time all the entities concerned put hand in hand," Tunisian Businessmen Union chief Hadi Djilani said on Friday. "What we are doing today, and what we are urging businessmen to do, is not a charity, but a necessity that owners of enterprises will discover its positive points," he said, adding that his organisation would work on employing 50,000 university graduates.

Djilani said, "We are against short-term appointments that don't guarantee integration for job seekers. There is no sense in hiring an employee and paying him/her a salary that doesn't exceed 150 dinars."

"Although the recent measures are important, I don't believe that they will put an end to the anger of protestors, especially unemployed people," Economic and Social board member Adel Kadri told Magharebia.

"They should have quickly announced the creation of an unemployment fund that enables unemployed people to receive monthly payments that guarantee them minimum human dignity while waiting for jobs." Kadri then added: "More importantly, the appointments should take place in a transparent way, whereby jobs would be obtained by those who deserve and need them more."

In her turn, Raoudha Seibi, MP representing the Social Liberal Party, said that results of measures that were taken by the authorities "will not be seen overnight".

"Therefore, we have to wait and see," she said, while calling on certain entities that she didn't name to "stop taking advantage of young people's issues to achieve political gains".

"We know that the problem of unemployment is a problem facing all world countries," Salem Badiri, an unemployed university graduate told Magharebia. "However, the officials should at least listen to us and understand our concerns. This is what we are asking for. As to contempt and procrastination, we reject that."

In her turn, Nadia Belhaj, an unemployed young woman in her 20s, said, "I no longer care about my unemployment. My only concern now is for these clashes and the fall of victims to stop."

Private industry offers hope

Last week, the largest Tunisian dairy company rushed to build a centre in Sidi Bouzid province with an investment estimated at 25 million dinars, which may be raised to 30 million dinars. The facility is expected to start production in early 2013.

Additionally, American-owned MASS Group Corporation will construct a cement plant in the province, according to Rasheed Fatini, head of the advisory council at Sidi Bouzid Business Centre.

"This project, which will not be restricted to the manufacture of cement, but will also produce different construction materials, has an estimated cost of 280 million euros (500 million dinars)," Fantini said. "The initial labour force is estimated at 1,000 job opportunities, and it has a phased execution plan."

According to official statistics, the Tunisia unemployment rate is about 14%, with 78,000 university graduates applying to employment offices every year.

On January 5th, a ministerial cabinet meeting approved a plan to develop border areas, including the provinces of Jendouba, Kef, Kasserine and Gafsa, with a cost of 2.5 billion dinars. This is in addition to a plan for the development of desert areas in the provinces of Gabes, Medenine, Tataouine, Kebili and Tozeur, with a cost of about 2.85 billion dinars.

At the end of last December, the government announced that it would pump about 5 billion dinars into development plans for different areas to reduce the rate of unemployment.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    anonymous 2011-7-9

    My name is Rachid from Tunisia. I sent you an article but you just published part of it. I am waiting for feedback. I don’t claim knowledge. I am interested in hearing comments about it. Thank you for the article posted on 24/04/2011.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2011-4-24

    Mercy of God be upon the souls of martyrs who fought repression tools, colonization tools and its symbols in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab region today with the passage of time. What happened? What is going on? What will be the fate? Where is the role of Arab intellectuals in all what happens? What will happen? Will it be a surprise? Where is the role of the Arab strategy and Arab researcher?? Was he also surprised? Should it be acknowledged that the Arab layman is capable of removing the Arab regime, removing the cover from the whole region at the same time beginning from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and… just for the simple call “Dégage” (go away) or ارحل (it is not written in this way إرحل) or is the expression « the people want… » enough to eliminate tyrannical regimes such as the regime of Ben Ali for example which is represented in the ministry of the interior, including senior officials and highly trained, expert officials who have a sense of security and competence above imagination. It has scared the people since Ben Ali put his feet like an eagle on its building. Or is there another secret society which has means to communicate and spin the cords of revolution unknowingly? Or is it an act of joining the revolution of the info-media as a substitute for the theory of the expected Arab revolution? Supposing we acknowledge this, where are its alternatives after the revolution? In more precise words, where is the dream of young rebelling people? The scene in my eyes is stranger than what we can imagine and deeper than what we see. Let’s try to understand, we have to realize, our current situation, or what it was, that we are today on a pitch in which other players are not absent even if they are on the bench at the beginning of the game, they are present, strongly at its end when our real players go to the bench but they haven’t removed their shoes… Since there is interaction on the issue, events are quickly developing day after day and the scene changes. Therefore, we cannot monopolize the truth and pretend it is complete. But we try to follow up statements and events, begin with the near past, declarations of decision-makers in the world to understand the strategy which pushes all these sides to spin events to exploit them for their economic goals mainly, moral and political goals from other sides. Making great events in the world will pave the way for a new hierarchy of values.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    فاطمة من المغرب 2011-1-24

    I salute the Tunisian people for this revolution which toppled Ben Ali and his dictator regime. I wish you success, prosperity and progress in all fields. I hope to see Arab countries united to support its youth to face unemployment which has become a scourge threatening the world.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    دانار الساgm 2011-1-22

    The president Ben Ali ordered creating jobs to all unemployed graduate Tunisians. However, the problem is that the president has a university degree maybe via the internet, an Arab or European university. He wanted to present his thesis but he faced resistance of a power driven by Tunisian, Maghreb or Arab internet users.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    محمد 2011-1-18

    We want democracy.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    Adnen Ben Zineb 2011-1-18

    Freedom of speech is an essential and indispensable element before laying claim to any form of freedom. I do not understand the oppression that has been exercised since 14 January 2011 on those who were on the street to try to send a message. I believe that the revolution has only begun so as to establish a solid base for a representative state of law. So, since Hbib Bourguiba Place is the scene where everything continues to be oppressed, I would go to this square every day to listen to the various slogans and makes others listen to mine. Keeping passing the messages, please!


  7. Anonymous thumb

    RACHID 2011-1-18

    Congratulations, my Tunisian friends! Who is next?


  8. Anonymous thumb

    zohra 2011-1-18

    All Algeria is with you Tunisians!


  9. Anonymous thumb

    laura 2011-1-17

    Good luck in your fight. All of our prayers and our thoughts are with you. We are following everything going on over there with great interest and we hope that everyone will get better. Stay vigilant. The battle is not yet over. The vultures are biding their time. All the Algerians support you in your fight and are following closely the events. Even if we are silenced, our thoughts remain free. Stay strong!


  10. Anonymous thumb

    نسيمة الجزائر 2011-1-17

    The Algerian people salute you. Joy come after hardship.


  11. Anonymous thumb

    kaoulal 2011-1-17

    He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. No comment.


  12. Anonymous thumb

    عاشور بن دريدي 2011-1-17

    I am an Algerian citizen. I salute you great Tunisian people! You have made a revolutionary epic against one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world. You have shown the whole world your courage and patriotism! You have moved all the peoples! You have scared all despotic rulers because their roles will come sooner or later!


  13. Anonymous thumb

    سهيل 2011-1-16

    Help us please in Midhali, Gafsa, Tunisia. Salam alikum.


  14. Anonymous thumb

    tounsi 2011-1-15

    LOOK belgium has been without government for six months and everything is okay why should ghanouchi take over the interim government when his party is disbanded by what law? If marshal law is declared the army must take over until such time all the prevalent questions have been answered and the people make the one decision as to who should run the country in the meantime the tunisian economy is solid the foundation is secure andthe next steps are in place all thanks to be ali.


  15. Anonymous thumb

    BEN 2011-1-15

    One can say that the right to freedom, democracy, human rights and women’s rights has been written in the streets of Tunisia in the red ink of blood. But, on the other hand, in good sense we need structures and patriotic men of intelligence to turn this into a reality and make this applicable to everyone. So, the most difficult part remains ahead in order to definitively turn the page on an episode that only history will be able to judge.


  16. Anonymous thumb

    محمد 2011-1-15

    Mohamed from Algeria, my Tunisian brothers, I hope you will unite efforts and keep your resistance against the corrupt regime.


  17. Anonymous thumb

    حليمة 2011-1-15

    I think the Tunisian people must protest at the situation they are living. As an Algerian woman and sister of Tunisians, I support all the claims of the brotherly people to improve their situation with our prayers to God to reform conditions!


  18. Anonymous thumb

    احلام 2011-1-15

    Why is all this happening?


  19. Anonymous thumb

    melissa 2011-1-15

    Tunisian people are great people who need a great president not a runner away who leaves everything behind him. Anyway, the reality of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was uncovered. From Algeria.


  20. Anonymous thumb

    بنت البلد 2011-1-14

    Many congratulations to our Tunisian brothers! Wishing the same to us! God willing we will topple down the short sick doll because I don’t think God will grant us a chance until we remove him because he is sick! However, God willing, we will remove the devil humans of our generals, who suck the blood of their innocent kinsmen.


  21. Anonymous thumb

    شاهد الحق 2011-1-14

    Protests and riots conducted currently by the Tunisian people are just a way to release a lot of anger and hatred accumulated against Ben Ali for all his acts of repression, frustration, plundering, violation of rights and corrupting the state for over twenty years. The current revolution in Tunisia, is the birth of a new era of freedom, prosperity and progress wherein Tunisians rule themselves by themselves as it happened in Iran in 1979 which has changed from an ordinary small state to one of the strongest countries in Asia. With the success of this revolution, fire of jealousy will burn in the hearts of other Arab people, God willing. This could possibly lead to the change of the situation of the Arab Islamic nation and bring it back to its former days of glory and thus change the course of history. As an individual enjoying freedom, I tell you it is something great and a wonderful feeling that strengthens the human and pushes him/her forward. This results in productive and developed people. Finally, as a Mauritanian citizen, I announce to you my total support and solidarity. Long live the Tunisian uprising, road to freedom! Don’t forget what God the Almighty says “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)”, and the verse of the poet “When the people wants to live, destiny must surely respond”.


  22. Anonymous thumb

    tounsi 2011-1-14

    The president must take precautions in dealing with the drastic events and take drastic measures to overcome the dark events that are now about to end and remedy the situation for things to get better.First he must fire some of his advisors and replace them with independant elite namely living in japan ,america or england,and it is not beyond the president to take such measures as to protect and guaranty their well being and their status so that they can think and advise him without any interference or threat from however.As he knows who these elite are and they can only contribute to the wellbeing of the country and legislate anti corruption laws and solve the political void that is now engulfing the arab society and treat the problems that are forgotten or side stepped by the ill advice that the president has received in the past twenty years from people like abdelwahab abdallah and kallel.


  23. Anonymous thumb

    diouanis2010 2011-1-13

    You are all tyrants!


  24. Anonymous thumb

    حوده 2011-1-13

    To defend himself, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali sacrificed his five ministers in order to ensure for himself the continuity on the presidency chair. But he knows quite stupidly that he is the target. Otherwise, the situation would have calmed down and Tunisian life would have returned to its normal course.


  25. Anonymous thumb

    nisrine 2011-1-13

    This is legal talk after years of patience.


  26. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2011-1-13

    Ben Ali joined the garbage of history, to be in the company of the tyrants who preceded him and made their peoples suffer. They committed crimes against human rights, violated constitutions, abused their power, lied and stole public money. At the time when their boat began to sink, they behaved like rats. Nesrine, the daughter of Ben Ali, has fled to Montreal, Canada with her husband Sakher Materi, their children and 20 suitcases. What has happened to their bank account. Upon the arrival of ben Ali’s family in Montreal, the Tunisians of the city came to boo them at the airport. Nesrine and Sakher were directed in silence to their luxurious villa, which they bought for$2.5 million. The unemployment of our young people was not likely one of their concerns. But, the Tunisians preferred to go stand before the villa and shout, “Materi, you thieves!” As for the godfather, he remains in his palace in Carthage. He hesitates to return once again to his palace in Argentina or his places in the Emirates. But, he has fed the hope of returning the situation to normal after having done a few magic tricks. He first fired his minister of the interior in order to blame him for the massacres. And, he also fired the chief of staff of the land forces, who refused to fire on a crowd and commit a massacre. What is the new chief of staff going to do? Will he massacre 10 million Tunisians who prefer death to Ben Ali? Or will he protect the people against Ben Ali’s criminal police, which is made up of sadists and sexual perverts who have heartily enjoyed torturing, raping and murdering men, women and children?


  27. Anonymous thumb

    مختار 2011-1-12

    People of Tunisia won't stop until Ben Ali resigns or at least comes out, address the people in public and announce he won't run for the coming elections in 2014. Then people will stop! Peace be upon the sons of Chaibi!


  28. Anonymous thumb

    Francisca 2011-1-12

    Hello- Society has to be built with everyone, and what comes of this decadence makes perhaps someone think. The magic variety both makes a large rabbit and a dove come out of the magicians hat right away. Luck has it that each individual possesses what is needed to develop and people are brave, and they are only looking to live in dignity.


  29. Anonymous thumb

    Dziri44 2011-1-12

    And what can you expect from Zinochet?


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