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Slap to a fruit vendor’s pride set off tumult in Tunisia

Mohamed Bouazizi spent his whole life on a dusty,narrow street.

Mohamed Bouazizi spent his whole life on a dusty,narrow street here,in a tiny,three-room house with a concrete patio where his mother hung the laundry and the red chilli to dry. By the time Bouazizi was 26,his work as a fruit vendor had earned him just enough money to feed his mother,uncle and five brothers and sisters at home. He dreamed about owning a van.

Faida Hamdy,a 45-year-old municipal inspector in Sidi Bouzid,a police officer’s daughter,was single,had a “strong personality” and an unblemished record,her supervisor said. She inspected buildings,investigated noise complaints and fined vendors like Bouazizi,whose itinerant trade may or may not have been legal.

On the morning of December 17,when other vendors say Hamdy tried to confiscate Bouazizi’s fruit,and then slapped him in the face for trying to yank back his apples,he became the martyred hero,and she the villain in a remarkable swirl of events in which Tunisians have risen up to topple a 23-year dictatorship and march on,demanding radical change in their government.

Other fruit vendors,officials and family members described the seemingly routine confrontation that set off a revolution. They said Bouazizi,embarrassed and angry,wrestled with Hamdy and was beaten by two of her colleagues,who took his electronic scale. He walked to the municipal building,demanded his property,and was beaten again. He walked to the governor’s office,demanded an audience and was refused.

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Sometime around noon,in the two-lane street in front of the governor’s high gate,the vendor drenched himself in paint thinner then lit himself on fire. By the time he died on January 4,protests had spread to cities throughout the country. KAREEM FAHIM

First published on: 23-01-2011 at 12:16:07 am
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