Tunisian workers demand stability
TUNIS, Tunisia (AFP)
Hotel operators, travel agents and others from Tunisia’s tourism sector demonstrated in the capital Tunis on Saturday demanding stability in the country after it was rocked by deadly violence.
Mohamed-Ali Toumi, the head of a Tunisian travel agents’ federation, said his group had seen a drop-off in the number of tourist reservations and several trip cancellations since authorities on Tuesday imposed a curfew on Tunis and several other parts of the country.
The curfew, which was lifted late Friday, came during a three-day wave of riots that was apparently triggered by an art exhibition that included works deemed by some to be offensive to Islam.
“We are here to demand the necessary security for our sector, which is vital to Tunisia’s economy,” Toumi said. “The ceasefire has been lifted and things are calm, but if the violence returns, the (tourist) season will be totally catastrophic.”
Tunisia’s tourist industry employs about 400,000 people and accounts for seven percent of the north African nation’s GDP. The sector had been recovering after last year’s uprising that led to the fall of autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“The impact of images of violence is immediate and almost irreparable among our Western clients,” said Hedi Hamdi, a spokesman for the travel federation.
Tunisia has a moderate Islamist government. The post-art-show violence was blamed on Salafists — fundamentalist Muslims who have been emboldened since last year’s revolution and who want to impose hardline religious law.
To cries of “No tourism without security”, about 200 demonstrators went to the tourism ministry and the interior ministry before heading to the national assembly building.
Tunisia welcomed seven million tourists in 2010 but only 4.8 million last year. The country hopes to see six million visitors this year.