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French Version

Tunisia plans to go into economic overdrive

Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali laid out bold goals to put his North African country into economic overdrive Monday, as it celebrated 50 years of independence from France. In a speech marking the historic milestone, Ben Ali said Tunisia would aim both to double the earnings of the average Tunisian, and to shave unemployment within four years from a chronic 14 percent down to 10 percent.

Women were promised the right to work half of full-time hours in return for a two-thirds salary beginning in 2007, while import-export businesses were promised a steep reduction of taxes on profits by 2008, in a bid to drive foreign investment.

Tunisia, which became independent on March 20, 1956, is often praised for its economic dynamism and its social reforms, notably in favor of women, but has come under strong international criticism over human rights issues.

The Mediterranean state of 10 million people boasts sustained economic growth, reporting a 4.2-percent increase last year and 6 percent forecast for 2006.

In a country with a 77-percent literacy rate, Ben Ali also made higher education one of his "strategic objectives," and said that people aged up to 40 years would be allowed to sit national exams to enter the civil service.

He said the average salary in Tunisia should be doubled, to 8,000 dinars ($6,000), by 2016.

The president's independence speech, which heavily emphasized economic and social themes, also included goals to triple motorway coverage of the country and to build a nationwide high-speed Internet network.

Beirut,03 27 2006
The Daily Star
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