Tunisia president to meet unions, employers after unrest

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C-R) greets Ennahdha Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi (C-L) ahead of a meeting with political parties, unions and employers on Jan. 13, 2018 in Tunis, following unrest triggered by austerity measures. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Tunisia president to meet unions, employers after unrest

TUNIS: Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi was to hold talks Saturday with political parties, unions and employers to discuss means to overcome unrest triggered by austerity measures.
The North African country has been shaken by a wave of protests over poverty and unemployment during which hundreds have been arrested before the unrest tapered off.
The demonstrations broke out ahead of Sunday’s seventh anniversary of the toppling of veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a revolt that sparked uprisings across the Arab region.
The trigger of the protests last Sunday was a finance law imposing tax hikes after a year of rising prices.
A man in his 40s died in unrest on Monday night in the northern town of Tebourba though police have insisted they did not kill him.
Interior ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani on Saturday said a total of 803 people suspected of taking part in acts of violence, theft and looting have been arrested this week.
Some 97 security forces and members of civil protection units were also injured, he said. There was no immediate toll for the number of protesters injured in the unrest.
Calm returned to the country on Thursday night and there was “no attack against public or private property” in the night of Friday to Saturday, Chibani said.
AFP correspondents reported one small protest overnight Friday in the central city of Sidi Bouzid — the cradle of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising — and said police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
Tunisia is considered a rare success story of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in the North African country in 2011 and spread across the region, toppling autocrats.
But the authorities have failed to resolve the issues of poverty and unemployment.
Essebsi was expected to discuss a way out of the latest crisis with representatives of political parties, the powerful UGTT trade union and the UTICA employers federation.
In 2015, UTICA — an acronym for the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts — shared a Nobel Prize with the UGTT for their work during Tunisia’s transition toward democracy after the revolution.
Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the revolution that ousted Ben Ali.
This year, the country has seen rising anger after the government adopted the 2018 budget which includes hikes in value-added tax, on mobile phones and real estate as well as in social contributions.


Award-winning Palestinian photographer ‘dies in Syria jail’

Updated 10 min 9 sec ago
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Award-winning Palestinian photographer ‘dies in Syria jail’

  • Niraz Saied was arrested by security forces in October 2015

BEIRUT: An award-winning Palestinian-Syrian photographer who documented life in the Yarmuk refugee camp in southern Damascus has died after nearly three years in regime detention, his partner said on Monday.
Niraz Saied, who himself hailed from the Palestinian camp, was arrested by security forces in October 2015.
His longtime partner, Lamis Alkhateeb, wrote on Facebook on Monday that Saied had died while in detention. He was believed to be 27 years old.
“There’s nothing harder than writing these words, but Niraz doesn’t die in silence,” wrote Alkhateeb, who lives in Germany.
“They killed my darling, my husband, my Niraz — they killed you, my soul. Niraz died in the Syrian regime’s prisons,” she wrote.
It was not clear how Alkhateeb had learned of Saied’s death, and she did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for additional comment.
Their relationship had formed part of the 2014 film “Letters from Yarmuk,” which featured clips filmed by Saied of daily life in the battered, besieged camp.
That same year, Saied won a photography competition run by the United Nations’ Palestinian agency (UNRWA) with a snapshot titled “The Three Kings.”
It depicted the downtrodden faces of three brothers waiting to be evacuated from the camp for medical treatment.
“You can’t find a complete family in the refugee camp,” Saied said after winning the award.
“I used to feel that in every portrait of a Palestinian family you could see the shadow of a person missing, and that is why my photos are dimly lit. But there is always hope.”
Yarmuk was once a thriving southern district of Syria’s capital home to more than 160,000 Palestinian refugees as well as Syrians.
Syria’s government imposed a crippling siege on it in 2012 and activists inside — including Saied — documented the dire humanitarian situation with photographs of gaunt families waiting for aid.
The Daesh group overran the camp in 2015. In May, after a blistering government assault, the ruins of the camp returned to government control.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been forcibly disappeared since Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011, the vast majority by government forces.
Rights groups have accused the regime of large-scale torture and extrajudicial killing in its prisons.
Families of detainees often hear nothing after the arrest, but in recent months some are discovering their detained relatives have been officially registered as deceased.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said that within less than a month, some 28 families were either informed their detained relative was dead or told to come retrieve the body.
Hundreds more discovered their relative was recorded as “deceased” by government agencies while filing other kinds of paperwork.
Saied’s childhood friend Ahmad Abbasi described him as “the finest person I knew.”
“In the early days of his detention, we heard that he was still alive. Then we didn’t know anything.”