Poverty-stricken vendor sets self on fire in Tunis

A poverty-stricken cigarette vendor set himself on fire in the centre of Tunis on Tuesday, suffering extensive burns but not endangering his life, witnesses and medics said.

Officials named the man as 27-year-old Adel Khadri and said he hails from an extremely poor family in Jendouba in northwestern Tunisia. He arrived in the capital a few months ago to look for work.

Witnesses told AFP that Khadri eked out a living peddling cigarettes in the streets of Tunis.

"This is a young man who sells cigarettes because of unemployment. Allahu Akbar! (God is greatest!)," he shouted before immolating himself on Habib Bourguiba avenue in front of the municipal building, according to a witness.

He was still conscious when he was rushed to the Ben Arous hospital in a Tunis suburb by emergency services, the witness said.

"His life is not in danger but he has third-degree burns to the head and the back," said emergency services spokesman Mongi Khadhi said, adding that Khadri was under constant medical surveillance.

"He was demoralised," said Khadhi, "His father died four years ago. He has three brothers and the family is very poor."

Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Tarrouche too attributed Khadri's desperate action to poverty.

"He is unemployed and came to Tunis a few months ago. He was very fragile, psychologically broken, and that is why he set himself on fire."

Passers-by rushed to douse the flames but not before Khadri had suffered serious burn wounds.

Initially a hospital source said that "only his feet were not burned."

He also quoted Khadri as telling a doctor: "I am sick and nobody wants to take care of me."

Habib Bourguiba avenue in central Tunis is the Mecca of the 2011 revolution that ousted former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and is lined with vendors trying to scrape together a living.

The number of people committing suicide or attempting to take their own lives has multiplied in Tunisia since a young street vendor set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, in a drastic act of protest against police harassment.

Mohamed Bouazizi's death in the town of Sidi Bouzid ignited a mass uprising that toppled ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali the following month and touched off the Arab Spring uprisings.

Economic and social difficulties were the key factors that brought down Ben Ali's regime and two years since his ouster unemployment and poverty continue to plague the north African country.

The simmering discontent has in the past few months sparked strikes and protests which often degenerate into violence. In November around 300 people were wounded in a week of clashes with police in the northwest of the country.

Tunisia has also been struggling to emerge from a political crisis exacerbated by the daylight murder on February 6 murder of Chokri Belaid, a leftist opposition leader.

Later Tuesday, premier-designate Ali Larayedh was to seek a vote of confidence on his new cabinet line-up from lawmakers in the National Constituent Assembly.