FEATURE-Peddler's martyrdom launched Tunisia's revolution

Wed Jan 19, 2011 11:16pm GMT

By Lin Noueihed

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia Jan 20 (Reuters) - It began with a slap and an insult hurled at a vegetable seller in a small town surrounded by scrub and cactus. It ended with a revolution that has shaken authoritarian leaders across the Arab world.

Residents of Sidi Bouzid, where weeds grow in the dust that covers the streets, say anger had been building for years before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, igniting weeks of demonstrations that spread across the country and unseated Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of repressive rule.

In the centre of Tunisia, Sidi Bouzid is a world apart from the expensive coastal resorts that are home to Tunisia's elite.

Its infrastructure is falling apart. Its hospital lacks facilities, residents say, while joblessness and corrupt local officials have fed resentment.

Local authorities had confiscated Bouazizi's unlicensed cart several times before, but the turning point for the 26-year-old, and for his town and ultimately his country, came on Dec. 17.

The breadwinner in a family of eight, Bouazizi argued with a policewoman who took away his goods and scales. The policewoman gave him a slap in the face and a slur against his father, who died when he was three.

Without telling his family, Bouazizi bought a can of petrol and set himself on fire outside the provincial headquarters.

"What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit when they fine him ... and take his goods," his sister Leila told Reuters at the family's home in a rundown suburb.   Continued...

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