Tunisian Nobel winners mark 5 years of Arab Spring

Statue Sidi BouzidStatue of a wooden cart like that used by Mohamed Bouazizi to sell fruits, in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, Thursday, Dec.17, 2015. Tunisians who won the Nobel Peace Prize joined townspeople in the country’s beleaguered heartland to mark five years since the desperate street vendor set himself on fire, unwittingly setting in motion upheaval across the Arab world. (Credit: Benjamin Wiacek)

By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA and BENJAMIN WIACEK

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisians who won the Nobel Peace Prize joined townspeople in the country’s beleaguered heartland Thursday to mark five years since a desperate street vendor set himself on fire, unwittingly setting in motion upheaval across the Arab world.

Children waved Tunisian flags, horsemen in traditional clothing paraded and crowds sang the national anthem during a celebration around the central plaza of Sidi Bouzid. But disenchantment tinged the celebrations of a revolution that brought Tunisia a budding democracy.

Unemployment remains rife, and Tunisia is grappling with the threat of violent Islamic extremism, now ravaging the region from neighboring Libya to Syria, after uprisings inspired by Tunisia’s revolt that led to lawlessness or civil war.

Members of the Tunisian quartet of non-governmental groups that won this year’s Nobel took part in a series of events Thursday in Sidi Bouzid, the epicenter of Tunisia’s revolution, where fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight on Dec. 17, 2010.

It was a personal gesture of protest by Bouazizi, 27, who died of his injuries. But his cry of despair captured the plight of the poor and jobless and echoed throughout the North African country, triggering protests that left 300 dead and thousands injured.

Within a month, the country’s autocratic ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had fled to Saudi Arabia after nearly a quarter-century as president — and soon protests erupted in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Morocco.

A few hundred people gathered at the town’s main plaza, now named after Bouazizi. Security forces were out in large numbers.

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