By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) – About 5,000 Tunisians protested on Monday in central Sidi Bouzid city against marginalisation and deteriorating conditions, two days after the deaths of 12 female rural workers in a traffic accident.
Traffic stopped and schools, hospitals and public offices were closed under a regional strike called by unions in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of Tunisian revolution.
The deaths of 12 women travelling to work in an inappropriate vehicle in the village of Sabbela on Saturday provoked a wave of anger among Tunisians.
Similar incidents have occurred in recent months, fuelling Tunisians anger at the high cost of living, unemployment and decline of state services since the overthrow of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Protesters including women and youths in Sidi Bouzid repeated the slogans of the 2011 revolution – “People want to overthrow the regime. We want justice and dignity. Streets and clashes until the regime falls”.
In December, 2010, a young Tunisian vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in a suicide protest over unemployment and marginalisation, spreading revolt across the Arab world.
“This strike is a support for the victims of this tragedy..we suffer in Sidi Bouzid from marginalisation and very bad conditions,” said Mohamed Azhar Gamoudi, an official in the UGTT union.
Tunisia largely escaped the violent after-shocks seen in other “Arab Spring” countries struggling to find stability which toppled long-standing leaders.
But political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stands at about 15 percent, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, editing by Ed Osmond)