December 29, 2010 / 4:36 PM / 10 years ago

Tunisia names new youth minister after riots

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali named a new youth minister on Wednesday but left major portfolios unchanged in a partial reshuffle after rare violent protests by jobless youths, official media said.

Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali waves to supporters after he took the oath at the national assembly in Tunis November 12, 2009. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

In addition to the Youth and Sport portfolio, new ministers were appointed for trade and handicrafts, religious affairs and communication, the official TAP news agency reported.

It was the second time Ben Ali had reshuffled his cabinet this year. More significant changes were made in January with the appointment of new finance, defence and foreign affairs ministers.

Abdelhamid Salama was appointed Youth and Sports Minister to replace Samir Labidi, who was appointed Communication Minister.

TAP said Ben Ali has instructed the government to work with the private sector to put in place “an emergency programme” to create jobs and provide “means of subsistence” for youths who have been out of work for long periods.

“Regional development is to become a permanent topic on the agenda of the council of ministers,” TAP added. Calls for an even allocation of resources to different regions of the country has been a mantra for protesters in recent days.

Clashes broke out earlier this month in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid after a man committed suicide in a protest about unemployment. The protests later spread to neighbouring cities such as Sousse, Sfax and Meknassi.

Ben Ali, speaking after protests by graduates demanding mainly jobs, said on Tuesday that violent protests were unacceptable and would hurt national interests.

Protests have been rare in Tunisia, which has been run for 23 years by Ben Ali and works closely with Western governments to combat al Qaeda militants, but have been gathering force in recent weeks.

The government accused its opponents on Monday of manipulating the clashes in Sidi Bouzid between police and young people on December 19 and 20 to discredit the authorities.

Tunisia has become a regional focus of attention for financial institutions since announcing a plan to complete current account convertibility during 2010-12, and full dinar convertibility in 2013-14.

The country of 10 million people remains prosperous compared with its African peers, but several international right groups say its government crushes dissent, an accusation it denies.

Muammar Gaddafi, leader of more prosperous neighbour Libya, on Tuesday ordered easier entry procedures for jobless Tunisians after he held talks with Ben Ali over the telephone, Libyan official media reported.

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