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Tunisians face more job losses as economy struggles

Tunisians face more job losses as economy struggles

Job creation unlikely to recover until Q4, minister says; Major trading partner Libya now under heavy NATO fire; Elections will be democratic, Islamist win unlikely (Fixes currency conversion)

May 26, 2011 2:25 by

Tunisia, touch-paper for unrest that swept the Arab world, will suffer rising unemployment through most of 2011 as the economy struggles to grow, Employment Minister Said Aidi told Reuters on Wednesday.

The government wants to hire 20,000 public-sector workers before elections in July but does not expect job creation to start recovering until the fourth quarter, Aidi said.

“We owe it to the people to tell the truth… The labour situation will continue to deteriorate and we will have a higher jobless rate in July than in June,” he said on the sidelines of an investment conference in La Baule.

The North African country has seen its jobless rate rise to 16 percent after street protests forced President Ben Ali to quit and subsequently spread to countries including neighbour and major trading partner Libya, now under heavy NATO fire.

With the help of international donors, Tunisia aims to bring unemployment below 7 percent in five years’ time, Aidi said. Measures to help create jobs in 2011, including tax incentives for businesses, will cost around 500 million dinars ($360 million), he said.

The former IBM executive said that although the situation was uncertain, he was confident that the upcoming election would be democratic and that Islamist parties would not win.

“I am very confident in Tunisians’ desire to have representation that is open-minded,” he said. “And besides, unlike the old regime, I believe the public should be allowed to speak. You don’t stop a fever by breaking the thermometer.”

“(A move to) Islamism, even in Tunisia where it is for the most part moderate, is for me a non-existent risk… Education and equal rights for women are central for us,” he said. (By Lionel Laurent)

Image is a market in Tunisia.

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