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Tunisians Mourn Losses in Jasmine Revolution

A soldier stands with flowers in the barrel of his gun as Tunisians protest outside the headquarters of the ousted president's party in Tunis this week

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Tunisia is observing three days of mourning for people killed in the revolution that ousted the president a week ago. As many as one hundred people may have died since the start of the uprising in December.

The former president, Zine el-Abidene Ben Ali, held power for twenty-three years.

A temporary government has offered a general pardon to political prisoners and agreed to recognize banned political parties. The acting prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, has also removed all restrictions on the media.

The interim government promises to hold elections. And it has arrested members of Mr. Ben Ali's family for investigation of corruption.

But protesters in Tunis and elsewhere continued to demand the removal of any officials from the old ruling party.


On Friday, the first day of national mourning, protesters in Tunis welcomed police officers who joined them for the first time.

Still, the situation calmed enough this week for the government to announce that schools and universities will reopen next week.

The protests grew out of anger over high unemployment and food prices, which are currently reaching new highs on world markets. The question now is how much the events in Tunisia will influence people in other countries, like this man in Algeria.

MAN (TRANSLATED): "Our problem is not to do with cooking oil, sugar or semolina. Our problem is with the injustice, the plundering of wealth and oppression."

Maha Azzam is a North Africa expert at Chatham House, a research organization in London.

MAHA AZZAM: "Over the next few months leading up to the presidential elections, if we see protests on the streets in Egypt then we are underway to some very serious change in a key country in the region."

In Cairo, a protester set himself on fire outside the parliament building. People have also burned themselves in other countries -- all reminders of the act of resistance that started the revolution in Tunisia.

Mohamed Bouazizi in an image from his Facebook page
Mohamed Bouazizi in an image from his Facebook page

Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit and vegetable seller, became so tired of abusive officials that he set himself on fire and later died.

The events in Tunisia are being called the Jasmine Revolution after the national flower. But Tunisia is in many ways an exception in the Arab world.

It has a solid middle class built by an economy not tied to oil production. It has a high level of education and more equal rights between men and women. And it has a popular army that has largely stayed out of politics.

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali making a speech on Tunisian TV earlier this month
Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali making a speech on Tunisian TV earlier this month

One political expert says even the corruption was different, limited mainly to the former president and his family.

This week, Arab leaders held an economic summit meeting in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for investment in young people.


Employment is a major priority, he said, along with education, economic growth and social and human development.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told the leaders that -- in his words -- "the Arab soul is broken." He warned them that "the Tunisian revolution is not far from us."

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. You can share comments, and read what other people are saying, at and on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.


Contributing: Elizabeth Arrott, Lisa Bryant and Henry Ridgwell