Tunisians rally to mark 5 years since president's ouster

AP News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2016 3:28 PM
Tunisians rally to mark 5 years since president's ouster

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian teachers, activists and political parties have joined to celebrate five years since protesters drove out their autocratic president and ushered in a democratic era.

The crowd at Thursday's rally included families of those killed in weeks of protests against President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who fled on Jan. 14, 2011. His departure sparked Arab Spring uprisings across the region against repressive rulers that have led to civil war and uncertainty.

Tunisia so far has been a success story, building a new democratic political system.

The atmosphere was festive but security was high Thursday on Avenue Bourguiba, a center of the protest movement five years ago. Marchers lamented persistent unemployment, which is pushing some young Tunisians to flee for Europe — and some to turn to extremism.

"Today we can speak freely and this is no little matter. That's the main achievement of the revolution, despites the hazards of the post-revolution period. I feel great joy and pride," said 35-year-old civil servant Fatma Abdallah.

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group of organizations representing unions, industry, trade and human rights in Tunisia, was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for its help to build democracy in the violence-torn country after the 2011 revolution. It stepped into a political crisis in 2013, pushing rival leaders toward a caretaker government to organize elections. Parties returned to the table to complete a new constitution.

Tunisia still faces many economic, social and security challenges, exacerbated by the chaotic situation in neighboring Libya. Economic growth was almost flat last year and the unemployment rate was over 15 percent.

"Freedom is nice, but I cannot feed my family with it," said 42-year-old Ahmed Belgacem, a father of 3 children.

Tunisia's tourism industry took a hit last year as a consequence of the deadly attacks at the Bardo national museum in Tunis and a hotel in the resort of Sousse.