Coronavirus: Tunisians protest over jobs amid economic downturn

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Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Thursday in at least seven cities to demand jobs, heaping pressure on a government facing the worse economic crisis in more than 60 years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the southern city of Gafsa, a witnesses said hundreds of university graduates gathered in front of the state headquarters, chanting slogans such as “we need jobs.”

Hundreds more protested in Hajeb El Ayoun and Sidi Bouzid, witnesses said. Smaller protests by unemployed people also broke out in the cities of Beja, Kasserine, Tozeur and Safax, state news agency TAP said.

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Even before outbreak hammered Tunisia’s tourism sector, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of gross domestic product, successive governments since the uprising of 2011 have failed to resolve stubbornly high inflation and unemployment that has bred discontent especially among young people.

On Wednesday, a company official told Reuters said protesters calling for jobs brought Tunisia’s phosphate output to a halt by staging sit-ins at state-run Gafsa Phosphate (CPG), the country’s sole producer. Phosphate is a key source of foreign currency.

The official unemployment rate is 15.3 percent but looks certain to rise.

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Tunisia started relaxing restrictions on movement and businesses this month, allowing 75 percent of government employees to return to work - but the authorities expect the economy to shrink by 4.3 percent this year, which would be its steepest contraction in more than 60 years.

The country has so far recorded 1,068 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 48 deaths.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the only country to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy following the 2011 revolts that swept autocrats from power across North Africa and the Middle East.

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