Canadians rally in support of Tunisian uprising

Montreal — The Canadian Press

Thousands of Tunisians from Montreal, came to rally in the downtown streets of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 15, 2011. (Rogerio Barbosa/AFP/Getty Images/Rogerio Barbosa/AFP/Getty Images)

Canada's Tunisian communities have rallied in support of a populist uprising that drove the president of the North African country from power this week.

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia on Friday after a month of violent protests over corruption, a lack of jobs and clampdowns on civil liberties.

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More than 1,000 people marched through downtown Montreal Saturday afternoon in solidarity with protesters in Tunisia, where at least 65 people have been killed in recent weeks.

"My dream and my hope is to basically see Tunisia a real free democratic Arab country, proud with his democracy, and proud by his people," said Hichem Zibi, a 32-year-old IT consultant from Tunisia who now lives in Montreal.

Mr. Zibi and others at the rally called on Ottawa to do more to ensure a democratic resolution to the political upheaval, and to see that Mr. Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia, is brought to justice.

"That would be the first step to show people that we have law and a constitution," Mr. Zibi said.

There are close to 20,000 Tunisians living in Canada, about half of whom are in Montreal.

Demonstrations supporting Tunisia were also held Saturday in Quebec City, Toronto and on Parliament Hill.

Algerian Montrealers held their own rally earlier in the day as well, calling for greater democratic reforms in their home country in the aftermath of Tunisia's revolution.

Mr. Ben Ali's downfall has sent a warning to other autocratic leaders across the Arab world, particularly because he didn't seem especially vulnerable until recently and used to manage his country of 10 million better than many other Middle Eastern nations.

Tunisian residents lived in a country with few civil rights and little freedom of speech, but they enjoyed a better quality of life than those in neighbouring Algeria or Libya.

Montreal professor Omar Aktouf, a native of Algeria who helped organize the earlier rally, said he is hopeful the developments in Tunisia will create a domino effect, leading to widespread changes in the region.

"I think what's happening in Tunisia is going to happen in Algeria," he said.

"The Algerian people (have been) under dictatorship for decades. They can see that the people of Tunisia had success in what they are trying to do."

Meanwhile in Tunisia itself, looting, deadly prison riots and street chaos engulfed the country on Saturday, a day after the mass protests which forced its president to flee.

A new interim president was sworn in, promising to create a unity government that could include the long-ignored opposition.

Canada has expressed regrets at the loss of life over the last month of violence in Tunisia, but Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon also welcomed news that elections in the country will be held in the near future.

For now, Canadians have been advised to avoid non-essential travel to Tunisia.

However, it is estimated that there are currently 1,000 Canadians in Tunisia, although there is no word on whether any were caught up in the recent violence.

Some 15,000 Canadian tourists also travel annually to Tunisia, which in recent years has become a top sun-and-sand destination.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said officials are monitoring the security situation in Tunisia closely and noted that Canadian embassies have emergency plans in place "to respond to a variety of situations.

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