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Tunisians mark anniversary of president's ouster

From Zied Mhirsi, For CNN
updated 1:04 PM EST, Sat January 14, 2012
People in Tunis shout slogans to commemorate the first anniversary of a demonstration that led to the fall of their president.
People in Tunis shout slogans to commemorate the first anniversary of a demonstration that led to the fall of their president.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Crowds gather on the main boulevard in Tunis
  • It was the anniversary of the demonstration that led to the president's ouster
  • Tunisian protests sparked the Arab Spring

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) -- Thousands of people gathered on the main boulevard in Tunis on Saturday to commemorate the first anniversary of a demonstration that toppled the president and set in motion a string of revolts across the Arab world.

What came to be known as the Arab Spring saw presidents removed from power in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen and sparked protests from Algeria to Iran and Iraq. Demonstrations continue in Bahrain, and anti-government protests in Syria have led to a brutal and ongoing government crackdown.

Saturday's crowd on Habib Bourguiba Boulevard was similar to the demonstration there last January, challenging the Interior Ministry over high unemployment, alleged corruption, rising prices and limitations on rights. The crowd a year ago shouted "Get out!" to longtime President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, calling for his ouster.

A day later, Ben Ali -- the authoritarian president who had ruled the north African country for 24 years -- fled with his family to Saudi Arabia.

This year, the crowd represented all sorts of political groups from ultra-conservative Salafists to communists, as well as many Tunisians who were there last year. They expressed pride at the so-far smooth political transition but many held signs expressing their distress about the economy and the failure of the revolution to offer them jobs and a better life.

Tunisia last month swore in a new president, Moncef Marzouki, a secularist known for his opposition to the old regime.

Regional leaders including Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika; the head of Libya's National Transitional Council, Mustapha Abdeljalil; and the prince of Qatar, Hamed el Thani, attended an official celebration ceremony in downtown Tunis.

Opposition movements have expressed their dissatisfaction at the way the celebrations were organized and the absence of high-profile representatives of the world's leading democracies. Groups held signs against Qatar, blamed for interfering in Tunisia's internal and foreign policies, and against the foreign ties of Tunisia's Ennahda ruling party.

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