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Inspiration for violent protests in Tunisia dies

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The 26-year-old who helped spark protests dies
  • The unemployed college graduate had lit himself on fire
  • He is the fourth person to die since the protests began last month

(CNN) -- A 26-year-old unemployed man who was beaten by police and then lit himself on fire, helping spark violent demonstrations in Tunisia, has died, the Federation of Human Rights Leagues said Wednesday.

Mohamed Bouazizi died Tuesday in a hospital in Ben Arous, said Arthur Manet, spokesman for the Paris-based group known by its French acronym, FIDH.

Bouazizi was an unemployed college graduate. To earn a living, he started a fruit and vegetable stand. But he did not have a permit, and local police came after him last month, said Khadija Cherif with FIDH. "The police not only confiscated his stand, but they also beat him up," Cherif said.

Bouazizi set himself on fire, attempting suicide. He became a "symbol for all the young college graduates who were unemployed, and Bouazizi was a sort of catalyst for the violent demonstrations which followed in the Sidi Bouzid region," said Cherif.

Bouazizi is the fourth person to die since the protests began -- two people were shot by police, and one committed suicide by electrocuting himself, Cherif said.

Tunisian security forces fired on protesters in December, the state-run TAP news agency reported at the time. The incident between Tunisian national guard members and the protesters occurred in the city of Menzel Bouzaiene.

The demonstrators were largely people urging the government to improve social services. Tunisia's government called them violent troublemakers.

An interior ministry official cited by the TAP news agency said protesters on December 24 set ablaze a railway engine and three national guard vehicles before erecting barricades in some streets.

Government leaders in Tunis announced plans to use $5 million to establish 306 projects at which citizens with college diplomas could work.

Tunisia has been ruled for 23 years by President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, an ally of Western powers and a target of activist and human rights groups that claim he runs a police state infringing on citizens' rights.