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article imageProtests on the rise in Tunisia in area where Arab Spring began

By Ken Hanly     Jan 8, 2014 in Politics
Tunis - On January 8, 2011, the first protester was killed in Kasserine. In nearby Sidi Bouzid, a street vendor set himself on fire to protest his poverty, sparking the protests that eventually resulted in the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime.
Three years later protesters tried to break into the offices of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party but were driven off by police using tear gas. Neglect and lack of opportunity still prevail in Central Tunisia where the Arab Spring began. The Kasserine region is one of the poorest regions in the country.
In Thala village in the Kasserine region there were clashes on January 7 in which protesters attacked a police station partially burning it and driving out the police. In Kasserine, shops and public offices were closed as hundreds protested in the streets on Wednesday (January 7). The rallying cry of the Arab Spring was shouted by many protesters: "The people want the fall of the regime." An Al Jazeera reporter in Tunis said that conditions had not improved since the 2011 uprising and protests: "People continue to pay a very high price for the revolution. Unemployment is high and conditions have worsened."
Young Tunisians had expected that the revolution would bring better living conditions and more jobs. The 2014 budget proposes new taxes, and cuts in subsidies, and other measures to ensure that the government receives a loan from the IMF. The government, under pressure from the protests, claimed it had done enough to receive $500 million, the second payment of a $1.5 billion IMF loan to be paid later this month. Many of the protests were called by transport groups protesting a new transport tax.
The ruling Ennahda coalition of Islamists have made a deal with the secular opposition to hand power to a caretaker administration pending elections. The IMF has been putting pressure on the government to cut spending as the deficit was expected to be about 6.8 per cent of GDP. Finance Minister Ilyas Fakhfakh told Reuters: "The IMF's conditions are to reach a political agreement to finalize the transition, and keep our deficit under control. We have so far taken the main necessary measures. It is on the right track. There is a meeting on January 29, and we expect to get that tranche after that."
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