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Tunisian sex workers demand brothel reopening

Women petition deputy parliamentary speaker to reopen their brothel in Sousse so they do not have to beg for charity.

Last updated: 12 Mar 2014 02:43
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A petition signed by 120 sex workers was handed to the assembly's deputy speaker in Tunis [EPA]

A group of Tunisian sex workers have demanded to be allowed to return to work, 18 months after their brothel in the coastal town of Sousse was attacked by Salafists and closed down.

A delegation in Tunis, the capital, on Tuesday handed deputy parliamentary speaker Meherzia Laabidi, a petition signed by 120 women calling for their brothel in the resort to be allowed to reopen.

I listened to their demand and I will write a letter as an MP to the secretary of state for women and to the interior ministry, to see how we can preserve the dignity of these Tunisian citizens

Meherzia Laabidi, Tunisian deputy parliamentary speaker

"We know the state cannot help us financially, because the current economic situation is so bad," one of them, calling herself Souhir, told the AFP news agency by phone.

"That's why we're calling for the brothel to be reopened, so we don't have to ask for charity."

Souhir said that, in 2012, Salafists had attacked the building where she used to work and "looted everything they found there and put us out of work".

There are numerous brothels in Tunisia, where prostitution is regulated by the state, the AFP news agency reported.

After the uprising in January 2011, some protesters demanded their closure, setting fire to buildings in the capital's red light district.

Laabidi, from the Islamist Ennahda party, confirmed to Mosaique FM radio that she had met the women and agreed to forward their request to the relevant government departments.

"I listened to their demand and I will write a letter as an MP to the secretary of state for women and to the interior ministry, to see how we can preserve the dignity of these Tunisian citizens," she said.

A short video on the radio station's website shows her talking to three women whose faces are blurred.

"It's not an ordinary employment problem," she told them, adding that "honestly, for me, brothels are a part of the problem".

The sex workers insisted their neighbours had no objection to their presence.

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