TUNIS: A Tunisian man who set himself on fire to protest unemployment has died, a hospital official said Tuesday, a year almost to the day after a fruit-seller’s self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring.
Ammar Gharsalla, a 48-year-old father of three, had been among protestors staging a sit-in outside the Gafsa government office last Thursday to highlight the unemployment problem in the region.
He doused himself with petrol and set himself alight after three ministers of Tunisia’s first post-revolution government who were visiting the area had refused to meet the group, sources said.
Gharsalla suffered third-degree burns and died at midday on Monday, said Fakher Eluati, a top official at a hospital specializing in severe burns outside Tunis.
Unemployed fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi died on January 5, 2011, after he set himself on fire to protest harassment by officials in the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
His death sparked a revolt that toppled Ben Ali and ignited protests across the region which ultimately led to the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Moamer Qaddafi.
But a year after a revolution that was acclaimed across the world, the unrest shows that little has changed for the North African country’s poorest.
Gharsalla’s suicide bid last Thursday sparked clashes between stone-throwing youths and security forces, but calm was restored the next day.
Two days later another man, in his 50s and with a history of psychiatric disorders, also tried to commit suicide by self-immolation outside the government building in Bizerte, northern Tunisia.
The man was taken to hospital in serious condition.
In January 2008, Gafsa was the epicenter of a popular uprising against the regime of Ben Ali. It lasted six months and was brutally put down.
In November 2010, violence broke out in Gafsa over allegedly corrupt hiring practices at the Gafsa Phosphates Company (CPG), the biggest employer in the region.
Tunisia is the fifth biggest producer of phosphates in the world. Last year, CPG and its parent firm lost 450 million euros (576 million dollars) as production plummeted by 60 percent.