Clinton pledges to aid Tunisia reforms

US secretary of state praises the fight for democracy and vows help to create jobs during visit to Tunis.

    Hillary Clinton, left, met Tunisia's interim president Fouad Mebazaa at the presidential palace in Tunis [AFP]

    The US secretary of state has pledged to help Tunisia undertake political and economic reforms, as she visited the country two months after mass protests led to the overthrow of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. 

    Hillary Clinton praised the Tunisian people's fight for democracy after meeting interim foreign minister Mouldi Kefi on Thursday.

    "You have shown the world that peaceful change is possible. The United States stood with Tunisia during your independence and now we will stand with you as you make the transition to democracy, and prosperity and a better future," she said.

    Clinton said she and Kefi discussed a number of ways Washington could help with moving the country forward, including US assistance to those who will draft Tunisia's new constitution and in creating jobs.

    "We need a plan for economic development, for jobs. The Tunisian people deserve that," she told reporters, saying the US would take part in a donors' conference later this year to help the North African nation.

    'No colonisation'

    Clinton said she would also push for $20m for Tunisia to "respond to some of their needs" after Tunisian officials requested US help, but hinted at more aid.

    "We need to have a very big commitment to Tunisia, [so] that we can be ready to help them economically as well as with their democratic transformation," she said.

    For the latest on Tunisia, visit our spotlight page

    Clinton also met interim president Fouad Mebazaa and prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi.

    Hundreds of Tunisians marched in the capital under tight security to protest against Clinton's visit, the third such demonstration in three days.

    They chanted "Hillary Clinton, you are not welcome, get out", "No colonisation after the revolution," or "No to US tutelage on Islamic soil", as they warned against any US intervention in Libya.

    During a meeting with relief workers Clinton commended the Tunisian response to the unrest in neighbouring Libya.

    "How impressed the world is by Tunisia's remarkable humanitarian response to the crisis on your border. And the United States is very proud to be your partner," she said.

    Just over a week after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, Washington dispatched Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, to Tunis.

    William Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, visited Tunis last month.

    The popular uprising against Ben Ali, who ruled with an iron fist for 23 years, began after a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set fire to himself to protest against police abuses.

    It sparked similar protests in Egypt, where president Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11, as well as in many other countries, including in Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and Libya.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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