Clinton pushes for jobs, reform in transitioning Tunisia


TUNIS – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday pledged to help Tunisia create jobs and undertake reforms to keep the momentum behind the revolution that overthrew its president two months ago. The chief US diplomat began talks with interim President Foued Mebazaa, who replaced the ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, after saying that an international donors conference would help to focus minds on Tunisia’s needs.
New govt officials and other Tunisians understand “we need a plan for economic development, for jobs,” Clinton told reporters during a tour of Tunisian Red Crescent offices. “There’s going to be a donors conference that will be held in some months. I’m going to be sending a delegation from the United States,” said Clinton who arrived Wednesday in Tunis as the most senior US official to visit since Ben Ali’s ouster on January 14. “So we want to know what Tunisia wants.
We don’t want to come in and say here’s what the United States believes… Then we want to work on plans… a plan for health, we want to help do what we can to have a plan for jobs,” she said. “The revolution created so many hopes and now we have to translate those hopes into results and that comes through economic reform and political reform,” Clinton told Tunisian reporters. Unemployment was a major factor in the political unrest that erupted in Tunisia in December.
Tunisia’s unemployment rate is officially 14 percent, but the percentage of graduates without work is about double that, prompting a warning from the International Monetary Fund.
In her tour of the Red Crescent training center, officials told her of the aid they provided to the tens of thousands of workers who crossed the border from Libya fleeing the fighting sparked by Tunisian-inspired protests. She praised their work. Apart from Mebazza, Clinton will also hold talks with Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi and interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi. And her visit will take in meetings with young people who took part in the mass protests. But about a hundred Tunisians marched in Tunis under tight security Wednesday to protest Clinton’s visit.