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Tunisian Nobel Peace Prize winners join events marking five years of Arab Spring

Published 17/12/2015

Tunisians gather in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Tunisian unrest (AP)
Tunisians gather in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Tunisian unrest (AP)

Members of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, have joined events in the country's heartland to mark five years since a desperate street vendor set himself on fire.

Children waved Tunisian flags, horsemen in traditional clothing paraded and crowds sang the national anthem during a celebration around the central plaza of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in 2010.

It was a personal gesture of protest by the 27-year-old, who died of his injuries.

But his cry of despair captured the plight of the poor and jobless and echoed throughout the North African country, triggering protests that left 300 dead and thousands injured, and setting in motion upheaval across the Arab world.

Within a month, the country's autocratic ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had fled to Saudi Arabia after nearly a quarter-century as president - and soon protests erupted in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Morocco.

A few hundred people gathered at Sidi Bouzid's main plaza, now named after Bouazizi. Security forces were out in large numbers.

But disenchantment tinged the celebrations of a revolution that brought Tunisia a budding democracy.

Unemployment remains rife, and Tunisia is grappling with the threat of violent Islamic extremism, now ravaging the region from neighbouring Libya to Syria, after uprisings inspired by Tunisia's revolt that led to lawlessness or civil war.

Residents feel their concerns about joblessness and corruption remain unanswered, and complained that only one government minister took part in Thursday's event.

"The sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi was in in vain, it brought nothing to Sidi Bouzid," said resident Riadh Jelali, an unemployed 30-year-old, at Thursday's events.

Young people seem especially distraught. High school student Jasser Guizani said: "We see injustice and we can't do anything. There is no future for young people, whether they are in school or not."

Tunisian leaders worked tirelessly to establish a new structure to bring democracy to a land that has known no such thing since it gained independence from France in 1956.

It has been a rocky path, and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel for preventing collapse.

It stepped into a political crisis in 2013, pushing rival leaders toward a caretaker government to organise elections. Parties returned to the table to complete a new constitution.

"We are bringing a message of hope to the population of Sidi Bouzid and other regions pushed aside," Abdessattar Ben Moussa, head of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights, said.

"Because five years after the revolution there has been no solution to the economic and social problems they suffer."

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