One year after Ben Ali’s ouster: Tunisians call for second revolution
TUNIS - Hundreds of Tunisians turned out in central Tunis to demand jobs and dignity Saturday as the North African country marked a year to the day since its president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile.
"Work, freedom and dignity," "Work is a right," "Tunisians rise up" and "We will continue the fight" were among the slogans chanted by demonstrators brandishing banners on the avenue which was the epicentre of the popular uprising that gave birth to the Arab Spring.
"We made this revolution against the dictatorship to impose our right to a dignified life and not to help certain opportunists realise their political ambitions," 33-year-old Salem Zitouni said.
Other demonstrators, wearing the red and white of the national flag, called for recognition of the "martyrs" killed during the weeks of unrest before Ben Ali was toppled.
"We are faithful to the blood of the martyrs" and "We will never forget our martyrs," their banners read.
Meanwile, Tunisia Saturday granted an amnesty or conditional release from prison to 9,000 detainees to mark the first anniversary of the fall of despot Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, officials said.
"On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Tunisian revolution the justice ministry has announced that 9,000 detainees will be pardoned or benefit from a conditional release," the ministry said in a statement.
Capital punishment of another 122 detainees will be converted to life imprisonment.
The death penalty remains on the books in the North African country but is no longer applied.
Pride of place was given to the memory of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old vegetable seller from the central town of Sidi Bouzid, whose desperate act in setting fire to himself was the trigger of the revolt.
Tunisia's revolution, which culminated in a peaceful election in October, inspired reform movements that felled long-standing autocrats Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moamer Kadhafi in Libya.
Leaders from Tunisia's neighbours as well as other Arab countries were expected to take part in anniversary celebrations over the weekend.
Among the most prominent guests Tunisia's democratically elected leaders will host on Saturday, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika -- who was a minister in his country's first post-independence government half a century ago -- has so far weathered growing social discontent.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, seen as one of the main sponsors of the Arab Spring, is also expected in the Tunisian capital.
Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani will represent Morocco, where King Mohamed VI introduced reforms curbing his near absolute powers to nip growing Tunisian-inspired street protests in the bud.
The head of Libya's new National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was expected for the celebrations, for which no detailed programme has been issued.
Weeks after Ben Ali hurriedly flew out of Tunisia, a rebellion started in neighbouring Libya, eventually toppling Gathafi's regime.
Ben Ali has been convicted of economic and other crimes by Tunisian courts and was granted exile in Saudi Arabia after his plane was denied permission to land in France.
According to the new authorities in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia has twice ignored extradition requests for Ben Ali, who faces an avalanche of trials if he returns.
Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, of the Islamist Ennahda party, has been officially invited to visit Saudi Arabia.
Among the problems that remain to be solved by the new authorities are soaring unemployment of 19 percent nationally -- up to 50 percent in certain inland areas overlooked for investment in the past -- and widespread social discontent.
Corruption also remains a challenge, with Transparency International downgrading the country from 59th to 73rd place out of 183 countries on its corruption list amid fears that former regime officials have blended into the new political landscape.