Tunisia fruitseller’s mom ends grieving

2011-03-23 10:42

Tunis - The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruitseller whose desperate protest has shaken strong-arm regimes across the Arab world, says she will stop her grieving because of the success of the revolution he inspired.

Manoubiyeh Bouazizi, clad in black, still fights to hold back tears more than two months after the death of her son from gruesome burns injuries suffered when he set himself alight.

"I am so proud of my son, who is known around the world and contributed so much to the freedom of his country and other Arab countries. He must be happy where he is," said the mother.

"I will not be sad anymore, because of what has happened, I will go home and just be proud," she told AFP after a meeting late on Tuesday with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who paid a special tribute to the 33-year-old Bouazizi.

Hounded by Tunisian officialdom because he did not have a permit for his street stall, high school dropout Bouazizi doused himself in petrol on December 17 and set himself on fire in front of the local government headquarters of Sidi Bouzid.

Public anger turned into deadly protests against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who fled the country two weeks after Bouazizi died an agonising death in hospital on January 05.

Before the end of the month, Egypt's leader Hosni Mubarak had also been forced out of office and protests spread to Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and beyond.

Lone act of self-sacrifice

"And you, the brave people of Tunisia, have led the way," declared the UN chief in a speech at the end of a two-day stay in Tunis to support its fledgling moves to democracy.

"You are the vanguard of the most epic events of the new century - the revolutions of 2011," Ban added.

But he highlighted how "the lone act of self-sacrifice by an ordinary young man put in motion an extraordinary chain of events".

Bouazizi "died in despair - not for lack of a job or livelihood, however modest. No, the real violation was the affront to Mohamed Bouazizi's sense of human dignity.

"That was the real crime, against him and so many others: the daily indignities - the crushing of a people's potential - his own aspirations and spirit," Ban told an audience of Tunisian civic groups.

While Bouazizi's death has given Tunisians hope, the problems that fed the anger and frustration in the fruitseller and others who took to the street remain. Tunisia still has high unemployment and high prices and the tourists have stayed away since the troubles.

There were demonstrations outside the foreign ministry when Ban held talks there on Tuesday.

And Tunisia is at the centre of a mounting new crisis with thousands of its people trying to get to Europe - mainly through Italy, just across the Mediterranean.

A generation in flight

Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni was due in Tunis this week for talks on the wave of mainly Tunisian migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The 6 000 migrants in camps and shelters nearly matches the island's population. Thirteen more boatloads arrived on Sunday and on Monday and Maroni said he wants to "stop the flow".

"They are all young, all males. It's a generation in flight," Maroni said ahead of his mission.

The phenemenon is more deadly than the protests that Bouazizi unleashed. Dozens have died, or are missing, from boats that overturned or were rammed at sea trying to reach Italy.