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Economic woes threaten fledgling democracy in Tunisia

International | Protesters demand more government aid
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/16/18, 01:29 pm

Thousands of Tunisian protesters on Sunday flooded the streets of Tunis, the capital city, on the seventh anniversary of the Arab Spring revolution. The anniversary comes amid more than a week of protests that began after the government hiked taxes on basic goods.

The Tunisian government proposed aid packages to the poor in a bid to quell the unrest but has not offered a long-term solution to the country’s economic crisis.

A new government budget on Jan. 1 increased prices and taxes on basic goods. The government said the move aimed to curb the country’s deficit and satisfy the terms of a loan by the International Monetary Fund. But Tunisians complained the price hikes added to the problems of high unemployment and low wages.

Over the past week, protesters took to the streets in more than 20 towns and cities, blocking roads and sometimes hurling stones at security forces. At least one person died, and authorities arrested approximately 850 people. On Sunday, protesters in Tunis lit flares and chanted, “Power to the people.”

“This is what the government has done to us,” one protester, identified only as Fouad, told Reuters. “I am a professor and my wife is a teacher, but we are suffering today to meet our needs.”

Tunisia emerged as the only democracy among several other Arab nations following the Arab Spring uprising that started in 2011. A group of Tunisian leaders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for their efforts to preserve democracy and peace amid social unrest. But the country continues to battle economic problems.

A majority of the protesters are students and unemployed young people. One of the leading protest groups, What Are We Waiting For, is calling for a return to the 2011 uprising demands of “employment, freedom, and national dignity.” Fadil Aliriza, a Tunisia-based analyst, said the government’s move to arrest potential leaders of the current protests could lessen its impact. “Without organized leadership and structure, the opposition protests will likely remain volatile,” he said.

Tunisian authorities started to take additional steps to diffuse the tensions. President Beji Caid Essebsi attended the opening of a new youth center during his first visit to the Tunis town of Ettadhamen, which describes itself as the heart of the revolution. Mohamed Trabelsi, minister of social affairs, said the government would increase welfare payments to the needy by $70.3 million. “This will concern about 250,000 families,” Trabelsi said. “It will help the poor and middle class.”

Ebrahim Deen, an analyst with the Afro Middle East Center in South Africa, said the government’s move might contain the protests in the short term. “Whether the government has the money to fund it is a different story,” he said.

Associated Press/Photo by K.M. Chaudary Associated Press/Photo by K.M. Chaudary A memorial for Zainab Ansari on Friday in Lahore, Pakistan

Pakistanis protest child rape, murder

Hundreds of Pakistanis staged protests against police inaction after a 7-year-old girl was raped and murdered following several other similar attacks. Police found the body of Zainab Ansari in a garbage dumpster in the town of Kasur four days after her family reported her missing. She is the 12th child murdered within a 1.2-mile radius of Kasur within the past year.

Authorities said Zainab’s attacker abducted her outside a religious center where she was a student. Kasur police released grainy closed-circuit TV footage of the child holding the hand of her suspected killer, whose back was turned to the camera. An autopsy report concluded she was raped and strangled to death.

Protesters gathered across the province of Lahore demanding justice. Police on Sunday released a sketch of the suspected serial killer, who is also wanted for eight other similar attacks over the past two years. But her family remains worried. Zainab’s father, Ameen Ansari, told The Guardian the police didn’t do anything when family members first reported Zainab missing: “In Pakistan, security is for leaders, and we are just common insects.”

In 2015, authorities found that a pedophile gang in a nearby village of Hussain Khanwala abused up to 280 children for nearly a decade. Authorities transferred several police officials out of the region for failing to investigate complaints of missing children. —O.O.

YouTube YouTube Chibok schoolgirls shown in a video by Boko Haram

Remaining Chibok girls say they won’t come home

About a dozen young women identified as some of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls vowed never to return home in a video released Monday by the Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram. The Islamic terrorists received international attention after they kidnapped about 270 girls from a boarding school in northeast Nigeria nearly four years ago. About 100 of the girls remain in captivity. Some of the young women appeared with children beside them in the 21-minute video, in which they identified themselves as Chibok girls. “By the grace of Allah, we are never coming back,” one of them said in Hausa language, adding their captors are taking care of them. Abubakar Shekau, leader of one of the group’s factions, in the video showed other female captives and vowed he “will continue to fight.” —O.O.

Myanmar set to bring home Rohingya Muslims

Myanmar will begin resettling next week some of the Rohingya Muslims and Hindu refugees who fled into Bangladesh, officials said. More than 650,000 Rohingya left Myanmar’s Rakhine state after the military launched clearance operations that the United Nations has since termed “ethnic cleansing.” Bangladesh and Myanmar, also known as Burma, in November signed a repatriation deal set to begin Jan. 23. The state-run Myanmar News Agency reported the 124-acre Hla Po Khaung camp will house about 30,000 people in its 625 buildings. Soe Aung, permanent secretary of the social welfare ministry, said the returnees will spend “at least one or two months” at the camps before the government rebuilds their homes. But it remains uncertain whether the Rohingya would return willingly to Burma after the wide-scale abuse. —O.O.

Kidnapped nuns liberated in Nigeria

Security forces in Nigeria confirmed the release earlier this month of six Catholic nuns kidnapped more than two months ago. On Nov. 13, armed men invaded the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus Convent in southeastern Edo state and kidnapped the six women. Johnson Kokumo, the state police commissioner, told the Vanguard newspaper that security officials rescued them during a police operation. Agatha Osarekhoe, the convent’s superior-general, confirmed the sisters’ release and said they received medical care at a hospital. Osarekhoe said she did not pay the kidnappers’ ransom request of $55,000. “We are happy, to God be the glory,” she said. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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