Thousands vowed revenge at the funeral on Wednesday of a 26-year-old university-educated fruit seller who set himself alight last month to protest against Tunisia's lack of jobs. His protest sparked weeks of further unrest over unemployment.
AFP - Thousands of people vowing revenge attended the funeral Wednesday of a young Tunisian who died after setting himself alight in a protest over unemployment that sparked a wave of unrest, witnesses said.
Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate, died Tuesday from burn wounds after dousing himself in petrol and setting himself alight on December 17 in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid.
His protest touched off a wave of unrest and clashes that rattled the government in tightly controlled Tunisia.
A crowd estimated at around 5,000 marched behind his funeral procession to the Garaat Bennour cemetery, 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Sidi Bouzid, labour activist Kamel Laabidi, who was in the procession, told AFP.
He quoted the marchers as chanting: "Farewell, Mohamed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today, we will make those who caused your death weep."
The angry crowd also railed against the high cost of living "which drove Mohamed to take his own life" and chanted "shame on the government," he added.
A massive police presence prevented the protesters from reaching the governor's office, where Bouazizi had doused himself with petrol, according to the victim's uncle, Mehdi Horchani.
"Mohamed gave his life to draw attention to his condition and that of his brothers," he said, describing a "deep sorrow and a feeling of injustice felt by all."
Despite his university education, Bouazizi was forced to sell fruit and vegetables on the street in the Sidi Bouzid region to earn a living.
After police confiscated his produce because he did not have a proper permit, he burned himself in protest.
Unrest and clashes then erupted across Tunisia, with a teenager shot dead by security forces in one protest, several people wounded and cars and buildings set alight.
"Mohamed has become the symbol of the rejection of unemployment and contempt, and his death risks exacerbating the already tense situation in Sidi Bouzid and the surrounding areas," said a diplomat on condition of anonymity.
The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, announcing Bouazizi's death, said the underlying causes of the unrest should be looked into.
The health ministry also announced his death in a statement on the official TAP news agency that recalled that President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had visited Bouazizi in hospital in late December.
On December 22 another young man died after he climbed up an electricity pylon in Sidi Bouzid and electrocuted himself on the cables, saying he was fed up with being unemployed.
The government would not confirm his death was suicide, but ordered a judicial investigation into the circumstances.
A woman climbed up the same pylon on Wednesday and threatened to throw herself and her three children onto the wires in protest at her lack of work and housing, local labour activists said, but authorities cut off the area's electricity in order to prevent the suicide attempt.
Also Wednesday, a labour activist in the town of Tala said authorities has arrested numerous youths who had been chased by armed police.
The worst day of the rioting was December 24, when thousands of people took to the streets and torched the local headquarters of the national guard, which responded with gunshots that killed an 18-year-old protester.
Protests spread to the capital Tunis in late December.
Ben Ali has said he was concerned by the tensions but also accused the opposition of exploiting the situation and exaggerating the scale of the protests, and foreign media of dramatising events.
He sacked three government ministers and the regional governor of Sidi Bouzid, as well as those of other regions, as the unrest continued.
Civil groups and the opposition in Tunisia say the protests are driven by high unemployment and high prices, and have called for radical reforms.
Date created : 2011-01-06