Thursday, January 06, 2011
By Hamida Ben Salah
Agence France Presse
TUNIS: A young Tunisian who set himself alight last month in a protest over unemployment, sparking a wave of unrest, has died in hospital, relatives said Wednesday.
The death Tuesday of 26-year-old university graduate Mohammad Bouazizi, who doused himself in petrol and set himself alight nearly three weeks ago, was also announced by Paris-based rights groups.
“Mohammad died yesterday [Tuesday] at 5:30 p.m. at the hospital in Ben Arous,” said his brother Salem Bouazizi. He would be buried Wednesday, he said.
Despite his education, Mohammad Bouazizi was forced to sell fruit and vegetables on the street in the Sidi Bouzid region of central Tunisia to earn a living.
After police confiscated his produce because he did not have a proper permit, he burned himself in protest on Dec. 17.
Unrest and clashes erupted across Tunisia, with a teenager shot dead by security forces in one protest, several people wounded and cars and buildings set alight.
The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, announcing Bouazizi’s death, said the underlying causes of the unrest should be examined.
“An investigation or a national commission is needed to determine the causes and the solutions of this social protest which has taken a tragic form,” said the leader of the group, Souhayr Belhassen.
The country’s Health Ministry also announced Bouazizi’s death in a statement on the official TAP news agency, recalling that President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had visited Bouazizi in hospital in late December.
On Dec. 22 another young man, Sidi Bouzid, climbed up an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed. The government would not confirm the suicide, but ordered a judicial probe into the circumstances of his death.
The worst day of the rioting was Dec. 24, when thousands of people took to the streets and burned the local headquarters of the National Guard, which responded with gunshots that killed an 18-year-old protester.
Protests spread to the capital Tunis in late December.
During the latest clashes Monday, security forces fired tear gas to disperse a march of mainly high-school students in the western town of Thala.
The march of around 250 people turned violent when police fired teargas to disperse the group and one gas canister fell into a mosque, a witness said.
Protesters responded by setting alight tires and offices of the governing party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally.
Ben Ali said he was concerned by the tensions but also accused the opposition of exploiting the situation and exaggerating the scale of the protests, and foreign media of dramatizing events.
He sacked three government ministers and the regional governor of Sidi Bouzid.
Civil groups and the opposition in Tunisia say the protests are driven by high unemployment and high prices of raw materials and have called for radical reforms.
Tunisia’s unemployment rate is officially 14 percent, but the percentage of graduates without work is about double that, and has prompted a warning from the International Monetary Fund.