Mon, Jan 16, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Tunisia celebrates first anniversary of Arab Spring revolt

AP, TUNIS

Masses of Tunisians marched in peaceful triumph on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of the revolution that ended the rule of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — and sparked uprisings around the Arab world.

Tunisia greeted the anniversary with prudent optimism, amid worries about high unemployment that cast a shadow over their pride at transforming the country.

Now a human rights activist is president and a moderate Islamist jailed for years by the old regime is prime minister at the head of a diverse coalition, after the freest elections in Tunisia’s history.

Tunisia’s uprising began on Dec. 17, 2010, when a desperate fruit vendor set himself on fire, unleashing pent-up anger and frustration among his compatriots, who staged protests that spread nationwide. Within less than a month, longtime leader Ben Ali was forced out of power and he fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 last year.

Boisterous marches on Saturday reflected the country’s new atmosphere.

On a crisp, sunny day in Tunisia’s capital, Islamists shouted: “Allahu Akbar.”

Alongside them were leftists and nationalists celebrating freedom and mourning the more than 200 people killed in the month-long uprising.

The new leadership, to mark the anniversary, pardoned 9,000 convicts and converted the sentences of more than 100 prisoners from the death penalty to life in prison, state news agency TAP reported.

As the country that started the Arab Spring, Tunisia appears to be the farthest along in its transformation.

However, political analysts warn that further gains will not be easy or painless.

Heykel Mahfoudh, a law professor and adviser to the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, said in an interview that Tunisia is entering its second post-Ben Ali year “in a paradoxically necessary phase of turbulence.”

Mahfoudh said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Tunisia’s development, but remains worried about the country’s economic and social situation.

It is unclear, too, what the Islamists who won the elections will do with their power.

Unemployment has risen to almost 20 percent from 13 percent a year ago and economic growth has stagnated as investment dries up and tourism, once a pillar of Tunisia’s economy, evaporates.

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