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Tunisia: Bakers stage sit-in following government subsidy cuts

Tunisian bakers   -  
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FETHI BELAID/AFP or licensors


Around 200 Tunisian bakers have taken part in a sit-in outside the headquarters of the Ministry of Commerce in Tunis to protest the closure of more than 1,500 of their bakeries. The closure of the bakeries follows a government decision last week to cut off the supply of subsidised flour.

The bakers group have indicated that the protest movement will be spread over a period of 15 days.

"Today we are staging a sit-in because we are forbidden to carry out our normal activity, which is the production of baguettes. This was announced in a statement by the former head of government, Bouden (former prime minister Najla Bouden). Our businesses are now closed." Mohamed Jamali, president of the Groupement des boulangeries modernes (Group of modern bakeries) said.

Demonstrators who rallied during the sit in held up signs that read: "bread, freedom, national dignity," and "thousands of employees will be laid off".

Last week the ministry of commerce banned some 1,500 privately-owned bakeries that produced European-style breads and pastries from purchasing subsidised flour, ending a practice that had lasted for more than a decade.

"The people you see here today have not been able to carry out their regular activity, which is the production of bread," Jamali said.

At a meeting on July 27, Kaïs Saïed called for an end to the classification of bakeries into classified and non-classified, asserting that there is only one bread for all Tunisians. Saied said that the selling of unsubsidized bread should stop, as there are those who circumvent the ban on selling subsidized flour to the unclassified bakeries.

“At the classified bakeries, there are those who wait for three hours, and then they have been told that the bread has run out. When they go to the unclassified bakeries, they find the bread priced at 800 milim and a dinar, after adding a few olives or onions. This means that there is bread for the poor but it is not there, while bread for the rich is available,” Saied said then. 

Tunisia has 3,337 classified bakeries, including 270 that are not provided with flour due to charges of manipulation, in addition to 1,443 unclassified bakeries.

"We want to be able to source flour like all bakeries." says Zayneb Becha, baker.

"I came here today because we have no income. 1,500 bakeries are closed and their owners are risking going to prison, as they are no longer able to pay their rents and leasing debts. 1,500 bakeries employing six to seven workers each! All of them are now jobless and homeless" Abdelbeki Abdellawi, baker said.

Tunisians are regularly confronted with shortages of basic commodities, which the govt subsizes and this time they’re faced with a new shortage of bread, an indispensable staple in the daily lives of the people.

The government led by a new prime minister Ahmed Hachani will be trying to contain the discontent in a country that experienced deadly "bread riots" 40 years ago.

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