- Title: Tunisians demonstrate as tension over budget bill mounts
- Date: 10th December 2016
- Summary: CHOKRI BELAID'S PHOTO
- Embargoed: 25th December 2016 14:44
- Keywords: Tunisia Tunis strike demonstration jobs budget bill
- Location: BARDO, TUNIS, TUNISIA
- City: BARDO, TUNIS, TUNISIA
- Country: Tunisia
- Reuters ID: LVA0025CAVM87
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Saturday (December 10) just hours before a deadline for parliament to set a budget for next year passes.
The demonstration was organized after a call from the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.
Labour unions, unemployed graduates, and people from marginalized areas across the country stood in front of Tunisia's parliamentary headquarters demanding equal job opportunities.
Mabrouka Brahmi, the MP from Popular Front opposition party protested against the bill.
"The budget bill for 2017 is compatible with expectations and needs of capitalists and wealthy people. It was dictated by international financial instances. Poor people and unemployed are not involved by this bill," she said.
The government is facing a major challenge to provide economic opportunities to young people frustrated by high unemployment that has been constantly in double digits. It was 15.6 percent in September, and twice as high in rural communities.
Graduates make up a third of the jobless and those who protested in Tunis say they were excluded from recent hiring rounds and have been without work for more than five years, living off family.
Karim Remidi, who came from Sbeitla in north-central Tunisia, graduated in Mathematics six years ago. He protested because he does not approve the draft of the budget bill for 2017.
"We do not agree with this bill because it freezes the recruitment and denies employment opportunities," Remidi said.
Many middle-class Tunisians are asking why should they bear more taxes, wage freezes and job cuts, when they say Prime Minister Youssef Chahed needs to tackle graft, especially among his wealthy backers.
"The budget bill increases the wealth of rich people and makes poor people poorer," said Zakia Dhifaoui, another demonstrator from Gafsa.
Most measures proposed by the government to tackle corruption and reduce taxation on poor categories were rejected by members of parliament. However, the constitution of 2014 obliges parliament to pass the draft on December 10th.
On Thursday (December 8) Tunisia's parliament voted against two articles in next year's budget imposing taxes on lawyers and pharmacists, in a blow to government efforts to cut the deficit and implement economic reforms.
Lawyers had campaigned against the planned taxes and held three nationwide strikes in a month and demonstrations in front of parliament and the prime minister's office.
The UGTT union had threatened a public sector general strike but called it off after the compromise deal.
Tunisia was the sole political success story of the "Arab Spring" protest movement that swept the Arab world in 2011.
But six years after the uprising swept President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile, Tunisia's much-praised model of democratic transition is souring.
Foreign debt payments of $3 billion loom next year, the public hiring freeze is meeting union resistance and new taxes are testing the patience of Tunisians who already say the government has done too little too late.
In the marginalized south -- heartland of the protests against Ben Ali in 2011 - many dismiss Chahed's cabinet in the north as out of touch, a remnant of former Ben Ali regime elites spouting promises they cannot deliver.
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