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G-20 leaders pledge to help economies of Egypt, Tunisia

By Michael Martinez, CNN
The G-20 meets in Paris on Saturday.
The G-20 meets in Paris on Saturday.
  • The world's leading nations end a two-day meeting in Paris on Saturday
  • They stand ready to support the economic stabilization of Egypt and Tunisia
  • Those countries are regarded as leading the uprisings now occurring in the Arab world

(CNN) -- The world's leading nations concluded a two-day G-20 meeting in Paris on Saturday by pledging to support the new governments arising in revolution-torn Egypt and Tunisia.

"We stand ready to support Egypt and Tunisia, with responses at the appropriate time well coordinated with the international institutions and the regional development banks to accompany reforms designed to the benefit of the whole population and the stabilization of their economies," the group of finance ministers and central bank leaders said in a communique.

As indicators of the economic stress in both countries, Egypt's unemployment rate was an estimated 9.7% in 2010, with 20% of the population below the poverty line, and Tunisia's unemployment rate was an estimated 14% in 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook. Some analysts believe the real jobless rates in both countries are much higher.

In Egypt, high unemployment, low wages and costly foodstuffs were a major force in propelling hundreds of thousands of protesters to demonstrate throughout the country for 18 days, ultimately leading to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11.

G-20 concludes in Paris

Government corruption and security police abuses in the autocratic state were also top grievances under Mubarak's nearly 30-year reign.

Tunisian fruit vendor Muhammad Bouazizi is widely viewed as initiating the rebellions now roiling the Arab world when he set himself afire in protest of government corruption, high unemployment, rising prices and political repression.

His economic hardship was regarded as an everyman tale in Tunisia: Bouazizi, a poor 26-year-old who couldn't find a job after finishing college, refused to join the "army of unemployed youth," as it has become known in Tunisia. Instead he started a small business as a street vendor, selling vegetables to support his family.

But in the streets of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia, a police officer seized his goods, claiming that Bouazizi was working without the necessary legal permit.

Bouazizi set himself on fire December 17 in front of a government building, and his self-immolation led young and unemployed Tunisians to hold widespread demonstrations against living conditions and the economy.

Bouazizi died of his injuries on January 4, and 10 days later President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled with his family to Saudi Arabia.

The Group of 20, established in 1999 to bring together industrialized and developing economies to promote global economic stability, also said Saturday that the worldwide recovery is still "uneven" with "downside risks," but is strengthening.

Advanced countries still suffer high unemployment, and emerging economies are growing robustly, "some with signs of overheating," the group said in its communique.

During the gathering, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke on a panel of central bankers, including the heads of the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the People's Bank of China, and said unbalanced flows of money between nations is again posing a risk to the global economy and financial stability.

He added that the uneven flow of funds into the United States from 2003 to 2007 was one of the key factors that led to the meltdown in financial markets in 2008.