World responds to Tunisia uprising

World leaders have responded to the unrest in Tunisia, that has led to the end of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year rule and provided a chance for Tunisians to shape their own future.

Barack Obama, the US president, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, both issued statements late on Friday after Ben Ali fled Tunisia and sought refuge in nearby Saudi Arabia.

Obama and Sarkozy had been criticised by Tunisian and human-rights activists for largely remaining silent about Tunisia protests, which were granted little media coverage in mainstream US media.

Sarkozy and his prime minister, Francois Fillon, were reported to have held a late night meeting on Friday, and subsequently refused to allow Ben Ali to land in France.

However, on Wednesday this week Michèle Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, suggested that French police forces could help police in Tunisia “appease the situation through law enforcement techniques”.

Her remarks were also met with widespread disapproval on social media websites, including Twitter and Facebook.


Timeline: Tunisia’s civil unrest

December 17: Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed graduate in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, sets himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide.

Police had confiscated fruit and vegetables he was selling because he lacked a permit. He is still being treated for third-degree burns across his entire body at a hospital near Tunis, the capital.

Bouazizi’s act of desperation highlights the public’s boiling frustration over living standards and a lack of human rights.

His self-immolation sparked demonstrations in which protesters burned tyres and chanted slogans demanding jobs. Protests soon spread to other parts of the country.

December 20: Mohamed Al Nouri Al Juwayni , the Tunisian development minister, travels to Sidi Bouzid to announce a new $10m employment programme. But protests continue unabated.

December 22: Houcine Falhi, a 22-year-old, commits suicide by electrocuting himself in the midst of another demonstration over unemployment in Sidi Bouzid, after shouting out “No to misery, no to unemployment!”

December 24: Mohamed Ammari, an 18-year-old protester, is killed by police bullets during violent demonstrations in the central town of Menzel Bouzaiene.

Chawki Belhoussine El Hadri , a 44-year-old man, is among those shot by police at the same protest.

Hundreds of protesters rally in front of the Tunisian labour union headquarters over rampant unemployment, clashing with Tunisian security forces in the central towns of al-Ragab and Miknassi. Skirmishes break out when security forces stage overnight crackdown campaigns.

December 25: Rallies spread to Kairouan, Sfax and Ben Guerdane.

An interior ministry spokesperson says police were forced to “shoot in self-defence” after shots in the air failed to disperse scores of protesters who were setting police cars and buildings ablaze.

December 27: Police and demonstrators scuffle as 1,000 Tunisians hold a rally in Tunis, calling for jobs in a show of solidarity with those protesting in poorer regions. Demonstrations also break out in Sousse.

December 28: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s president, warns in a national television broadcast that protests are unacceptable and will have a negative impact on the economy. Ben Ali criticises the “use of violence in the streets by a minority of extremists” and says the law will be applied “in all firmness” to punish protesters.

The Tunisian Federation of Labour Unions holds another rally in Gafsa province, which is squashed by security forces.

At the same time, about 300 lawyers hold a rally near the government’s palace in Tunis in solidarity with protesters. Lawyers march in several other cities as well.

The governors of Sidi Bouzid, Jendouba, and Zaghouan provinces are dismissed for unspecified reasons related to the uprising, according to the Pana news agency.

The Tunisian ministers of communication, trade and handicrafts, and religious affairs are all sacked for reasons related to the uprising, Al-Arabiya news channel reports.

Abderrahman Ayedi, a prominent Tunisian lawyer, is allegedly tortured by police after they arrest him for protesting.

December 29: Security forces peacefully break up a demonstration in the northeastern city of Monastir but allegedly use violence in the town of Sbikha. There are also reports of police brutality in the town of Chebba, where one protester is hospitalised.

Nessma TV, a private news channel, becomes the first major Tunisian media outlet to cover the protests, after 12 days of demonstrations.

December 30: El Hadri, shot by police six days prior, dies of his injuries.

France’s Socialist Party, the main opposition, condemns the “brutal repression” of the protesters, calling for lawyers and demonstrators to be released.

December 31: Lawyers across Tunisia respond to a call to assemble in protest over the arrested lawyers and in solidarity with the people of Sidi Bouzid.

Authorities react to the protests with force, and lawyers tell Al Jazeera they were “savagely beaten“.

January 2: The hacktivist group “Anonymous” announces Operation Tunisia in solidarity with the protests by hacking a number of Tunisian state-run websites, temporarily shutting them down.

Several online activists report on Twitter that their email and Facebook accounts were hacked.

January 3: About 250 demonstrators, mostly students, stage a peaceful march in the city of Thala. The protest turns violent after police try to stop it by firing tear gas canisters.

At least nine protesters are reportedly injured. In response, protesters set fire to tyres and attack the local offices of the ruling party.

January 4: The Tunisian Bar Association announces a general strike to be staged January 6 in protest over attacks by security forces against its members.

January 5: Mohamed Bouazizi dies of self-inflicted burns. A funeral is later held for him in Sidi Bouzid, his hometown.

January 6: It is reported that 95 per cent of Tunisia’s 8,000 lawyers launch a strike, demanding an end to police brutality against peaceful protesters.

January 7: Authorities arrest a group of bloggers, journalists, activists and a rap singer in a crackdown on dissent. Some of them reportedly go missing.

January 8: At least six protesters are reportedly killed and six others wounded in clashes with police in Tala, a provincial town near the border with Algeria. Another three people were killed in similar clashes in the Kasserine region.

In Tala, witnesses said police fired their weapons after using water cannons to try to disperse a crowd which had set fire to a government building. The crowd has also thrown stones and petrol bombs at police.

January 9: Two protesters named Chihab Alibi and Youssef Fitouri are shot dead by police in Miknassi, according to the SBZ news agency.

January 13: The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights tallies 66 deaths since the protests began, and sources tell Al Jazeera on Thursday that at least 13 people were killed in the past two days alone. The government’s official toll stands at 23 after several weeks of clashes.

Later, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president, makes a televised address, announcing unprecedented concessions and vowing not to seek re-election in 2014. He also pledges to introduce more freedoms into society, institute widespread reforms and investigate the killings of protesters during demonstrations.

January 14: President imposes a state of emergency and fires the country’s government amid violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

Ben Ali also promises fresh legislative elections within six months in an attempt to quell mass dissent.

State media reports that gatherings of more than three people have been banned and “arms will be used if orders of security forces are not heeded”.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali leaves country and the prime minister takes control of the government.

Mohammed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister, cites chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution and becomes the interim president.

French media report that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, refused to allow Ben Ali to land in his country.

January 15: Saudi Arabia officially announces that it is hosting Ben Ali and his family for an unspecified period of time.

Security vacuum left by the departure of Ben Ali is exploited by looters and violent gangs, witnesses say.

Residents in several parts of Tunis say that groups were prowling through neighbourhoods at night setting fire to buildings and attacking people and property, with no police in sight.

January 16: Tension and uncertainty grip Tunisia as military forces attempt to restore order.

Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali’s wife, dies in a military hospital in Tunis. He is the first person in the president’s extended family reported to have died as a result of the uprising.

Salim Shayboub, Ben Ali’s son-in-law, is also reportedly arrested.

Rafik Belhaj Tunisia’s former interior minister, the man many held responsible for a police crackdown on protesters, is arrested and held in his home town of Beja in the north of the country.

A four-part series of US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks shows that the US knew about the extent of corruption and discontent in Tunisia, and chose to support Ben Ali regardless.

January 17: Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, says that he regrets the fall of Ben Ali, which has left the country in “chaos with no end in sight.”

Tunisia’s prime minister promises to announce a new coalition government, hoping to maintain the momentum of political progress to ward off fresh protests and also undercut gunmen loyal to the ousted president.

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