News / Africa

Rights Group says 35 Dead in Tunisia Protests

Demonstrators clashing with riot police in a street of Regueb, 09 Jan 2011.
Demonstrators clashing with riot police in a street of Regueb, 09 Jan 2011.
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An international rights group says at least 35 people have died in Tunisia during recent days of protests.  Protests in Tunisia and in neighboring Algeria are raising questions about the hard-line governments in the two North African countries.

There are striking similarities in the protests that have swept through Tunisia and Algeria in recent weeks.  Both were fueled by a toxic mix of high unemployment and rising the cost of food and other basic goods.  Both cast a spotlight on a restive and marginalized youth - and their authoritarian governments.

"There is a shared lack of employment, lack of opportunities and a greater distancing between the governments in each country and the population as a whole," said Analyst Claire Spencer, head of Middle East and North Africa programs at London-based think-tank Chatham House.

There are plenty of differences.  Algeria has a history of unrest, including a civil war  in the 1990s that left at least 100,000 people dead.  Spencer notes that by contrast, Tunisia is smaller, more stable and more homogeneous.

But both governments have been accused of having little tolerance for democracy and human rights.  While both have promised to address economic concerns, they have also arrested hundreds of people following the protests.

People are seen during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, against high prices and unemployment, 08 Jan 2011.
People are seen during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, against high prices and unemployment, 08 Jan 2011.


Reports say protests this past weekend left five people dead in Algeria.  The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights says at least 35 people were killed in Tunisia during the same period.

The general secretary of the rights group, Khadija Cherif, is Tunisian by origin, says instead of trying to resolve the problem peacefully, Tunisian police fired on the protesters, accused them of terrorism and clamped down on freedom of expression, including the Internet.

The United States, the European Union and former colonial power France have expressed concern about the unrest in Tunisia and Algeria.  But analyst Spencer says the West has tended to downplay the lack of democracy in both countries, which are considered bulwalks in the fight against Islamist extremism in North Africa.

"I think the outside world should pay more attention to the fact that the majority of the population of both these countries are now demanding the same kind of rights of access to jobs and economic and political possibilities as in their close neighborhoods in southern Europe," said Cherif.

The Paris rights group has called for an internal inquiry into the roots of the unrest in Tunisia and an international investigation into the deaths.

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