Rural Tunisia angry after some poll results overturned



TUNIS // Violence this week in Tunisia illustrated the economic woes facing the next government, with post-election riots erupting over annulled victories by a party that had promised poor people a free ride - literally.

Soldiers fired warning shots yesterday to disperse crowds attacking police stations in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, wracked since Thursday by angry protests.

Violence broke out after officials cancelled gains in national assembly elections last Sunday by the Popular Petition party over alleged campaign finance violations.

The party quickly withdrew from the assembly.

The Popular Petition rose by pledging a lavish welfare state against a backdrop of economic malaise. After controversy over the party fades, curing that malaise will remain a key challenge on Tunisia's path to democracy.

The path to free elections began 10 months ago when a poor vegetable seller in Sidi Bouzid, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in desperation after years of harassment by local officials.

His gesture sparked protests that overturned the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled Tunisia in January.

Last Sunday, Tunisians turned out en masse to vote in the country's first free elections.

The national assembly that emerged from the election would form a fresh interim government and draft a new constitution.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party came in first, capturing 90 of 217 seats. Second place went to the secularist Congress for the Republic (CPR), while the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties, known by its Arabic name, Ettakatol, came in third.

But preliminary election results that trickled out district by district also revealed a dark horse.

Results leaked on Monday showed the little-known Popular Petition, led by the wealthy expatriate Hachmi Hamdi, taking up to 90 per cent of votes at some polling centres in Sidi Bouzid.

"He promised free transport, free health care, large investments and money for poor people," said Rachid Fettini, a businessman in Sidi Bouzid. "No one had ever promised things like that before."

Few parties seemed to perceive a threat in Mr Hamdi, who owns a television station and lives in London, where he remained for most of his campaign.

The swift rise of Ennahda after years of persecution by Mr Ben Ali's regime focused political debate on the role of religion in public life. Mr Hamdi, meanwhile, was talking about something else.

Armed with campaign volunteers and his television station, Al Mustakillah, Mr Hamdi promised universal health care, unemployment benefits, free transport for people over age 65 and manufacturing plants in depressed cities neglected by Mr Ben Ali's regime.

To fund the schemes, he proposed taxing the travel industry, large companies and anyone earning more than 100,000 dinars (Dh262,000), he said in an interview with Tunisia Live, a news website.

Final election results on Thursday showed the Popular Petition came fourth, with 19 assembly seats. But the election commission struck down its victories in six districts, including Sidi Bouzid.

Mr Hamdi said on Thursday that the party was leaving the national assembly entirely.

By Thursday night, a mob converged on the local office of the election committee, said Mr Fettini. Finding it guarded by soldiers, protesters instead set fire to the nearby mayor's office and courthouse, Mr Fettini and wire services said.

Protesters also ransacked an Ennahda campaign office, starting a fire inside, and clashed with police who fired tear gas in bids to drive them off, Reuters reported.

Anger had festered all week in Sidi Bouzid at perceived slights against the town by commentators on Tunisian media, including Ennahda activists, for having backed Mr Hamdi, said Mr Fettini, who voted neither for Ennahda nor for the Popular Petition.

"The invalidation of the Popular Petition lists just restarted things," he said. "They're angry at that, and they feel insulted by Ennahda."

After Sunday's elections, Ennahda's leader, Rached Ghannouchi, praised the town as the birthplace of Tunisia's revolution.

"We salute Sidi Bouzid and its sons who launched the spark and we hope God will have made Mohamed Bouazizi a martyr," he said.

Yesterday, shops were closed in Sidi Bouzid and much of the town was on strike, according to Mr Fettini. Stone-throwing protesters clashed with police and helicopters circled overhead.

In Tunis, Ennahda and other parties who scored high on Sunday have begun talks on forming a government. Ennahda has said it wants a liberal business environment and a convertible currency to speed economic growth.

In Sidi Bouzid yesterday, Mr Fettini described a bleaker vista.

"There are tyres burning in Mohamed Bouazizi square," Mr Fettini said. "The whole place has been sacked. The crowd is yelling 'Bread and water and no Ennahda'."

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UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

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Thursday’s fixtures

6pm: Hyderabad Nawabs v Pakhtoon Warriors

10pm: Lahore Sikandars v Pakhtoon Blasters

Teams

Chennai Knights, Lahore Sikandars, Pakhtoon Blasters, Abu Dhabi Stars, Abu Dhabi Dragons, Pakhtoon Warriors and Hyderabad Nawabs.

Squad rules

All teams consist of 15-player squads that include those contracted in the diamond (3), platinum (2) and gold (2) categories, plus eight free to sign team members.

Tournament rules

The matches are of 25 over-a-side with an 8-over power play in which only two fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle. Teams play in a single round robin league followed by the semi-finals and final. The league toppers will feature in the semi-final eliminator.

The specs: 2019 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera

Price, base: Dh1.2 million

Engine: 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 725hp @ 6,500pm

Torque: 900Nm @ 1,800rpm

Fuel economy, combined:  12.3L / 100km (estimate)

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

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Champions League quarter-final, first leg

Ajax v Juventus, Wednesday, 11pm (UAE)

Match on BeIN Sports

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Some of Darwish's last words

"They see their tomorrows slipping out of their reach. And though it seems to them that everything outside this reality is heaven, yet they do not want to go to that heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope." - Mahmoud Darwish, to attendees of the Palestine Festival of Literature, 2008

His life in brief: Born in a village near Galilee, he lived in exile for most of his life and started writing poetry after high school. He was arrested several times by Israel for what were deemed to be inciteful poems. Most of his work focused on the love and yearning for his homeland, and he was regarded the Palestinian poet of resistance. Over the course of his life, he published more than 30 poetry collections and books of prose, with his work translated into more than 20 languages. Many of his poems were set to music by Arab composers, most significantly Marcel Khalife. Darwish died on August 9, 2008 after undergoing heart surgery in the United States. He was later buried in Ramallah where a shrine was erected in his honour.