IMF does not want austerity in Tunisia, says spokesman

A women looks at dates at a market in Tunis amid growing fears of austerity in Tunisia. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 January 2018
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IMF does not want austerity in Tunisia, says spokesman

WASHINGTON: The International Monetary Fund does not want austerity in Tunisia, and in fact proposed programs to protect the poor from the impact of economic reforms, a Fund spokesman said Thursday.
Several hundred people have been arrested in Tunisia since social unrest erupted a week ago, fueled by unemployment, corruption and austerity measures in the 2018 budget.
“The frustration the Tunisian people are feeling is understandable,” said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice, speaking on the anniversary of the 2011 Tunisian uprising that launched the Arab Spring.
However, he defended the institution against the “outdated” view that it is the IMF causing the suffering.
“Speaking for the IMF, we do not want austerity. We do want well-designed, well-implemented, socially-balanced reforms,” he said
He noted that the Fund has supported continuing subsidies for basic foodstuffs, raising taxes on non-essential items, and boosting funds for pensions and health care.
“At the end of the day it’s their program, it’s not something imposed by the IMF.”
Economic reforms, which include reducing the size of the massive public sector and reforming the tax system, is the best way to achieve “growth and fairness,” he said.
However, the program is seeking to address “very deep-seated, longstanding issues, so we can’t expect to see success overnight,” Rice cautioned.
The North African country is seen as having had a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.
But seven years later, anger has risen over new austerity measures after a year of rising prices, with protesters again chanting the 2011 slogans of “Work, Freedom, Dignity.”
The IMF has supported the country through a four-year, $3 billion loan program. The fund’s board is due to approve the third $320 million installment of the loan sometime in the fourth quarter, which would bring the total to $1 billion paid.
Tunisia faced a series of shocks since 2007 and saw its growth rate plunge in 2011, but has recovered since 2014, with the economy expected to show a 2.3 percent expansion in 2017 and three percent this year.
Rice said that despite the frustration of the Tunisian people, “reversing those reforms would be the wrong option at this stage.”


Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US Embassy and the killings in Gaza. (Reuters)
Updated 13 min 5 sec ago
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Israel to build 2,500 new settler homes

  • The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements.
  • They are working to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine, says Hanan Ashrawi

AMMAN, Jordan: Israel’s decision to build thousands of new homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank has “ended the two-state solution,” according to Palestinian officials.

The stark warning comes after Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman confirmed on Thursday that he would seek final approval for 2,500 homes to be built across 30 settlements. The work is likely to be approved at a planning committee meting next week.

The timing of Lieberman’s announcement is regarded as particularly provocative by Palestinian officials, still angered by the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the killing of 60 protesters in Gaza on May 15.

In a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for the Palestinian president, said: “The continuation of the settlement policy, statements by American officials supporting settlements, and incitement by Israeli ministers have ended the two-state solution and ended the American role in the region.”

The 2,500 houses, which are illegal under international law, will be spread across the occupied West Bank, with construction work due to begin immediately after approval is granted. The new houses will include 400 dwellings in Ariel, north of Jerusalem, and 460 in Ma’ale Adumim, a city already inhabited by about 40,000 people. Lieberman also said that “in coming months” he would push for the approval of another 1,400 settler houses now in the preliminary stages of planning.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee, said the plans reveal “the real nature of Israeli colonialism, expansionism and lawlessness.”

She said: “Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately working to enhance its extremist Jewish settler population and to superimpose greater Israel on all of historic Palestine.”

In an appeal to the International Criminal Court earlier this week, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry branded Israeli settlements “the single most dangerous threat to Palestinian lives and livelihoods.” 

Ashrawi called for the legal body to “open an immediate criminal investigation into Israel’s flagrant violations of international law.”

According to a June 2017 article in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, more than 380,000 settlers live in the West Bank, with more than 40 percent based outside official settlements. Many Palestinians regard the announcement of the new settlements as being directly linked to the recent opening of the new US embassy and the killings in Gaza.

Khalil Tufakji, director of the maps and survey department at the Arab Studies Society, a Jerusalem-based NGO, told Arab News that the houses were designed to placate demands from the Israeli rightwing to create “a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.”