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Major march to launch the World Social Forum

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It's now 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning here in Tunisia (5:30 a.m. in Ottawa) and we're getting ready for the major march this afternoon that will officially launch the World Social Forum.

Aljazeera reports, "Romdhane Ben Amor, a spokesperson for the WSF organising team, …estimated as many as 50,000 visitors from 128 countries would be gathering to discuss shared economic and social problems. The forum will begin with all these participants marching down the streets of Tunis, the capital, on Tuesday afternoon."

70,000 people are expected to take part in this three-hour march that will start at the January 14 Square, cross the main streets and squares of this city, and conclude with an official ceremony and a concert at the El Menzah sports complex.

The news report adds, "The alter-globalisation activists are not the only people to have paid a visit North Africa a visit in recent weeks. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also been knocking on doors in both Tunisia and Egypt, 'assisting' the governments in both countries to introduce their standard set of 'structural reforms'. In addition to its existing public debt, Tunisia is currently negotiating a $1.78 bn loan from the IMF to help keep its economy afloat, and the newly-formed government may sign the agreement this month. Yet the reforms the IMF is pushing the government to accept would, according to some economists, make life even harder for a population that so recently rose up in revolt over economic misery. …Critics attribute these policies (over the past 30 years) with perpetuating the kind of inequalities and systemic unemployment that pushed the young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, to set himself on fire and trigger the events that toppled longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali."

At the Water Justice Day forum we heard from Tunisian activists about the challenges being faced in this post-revolutionary period. The challenges noted include an ongoing campaign for power by the Salafist movement, which has been linked to the murder of the popular opposition leader Chokri Belaid last month, as well as a growing inflation rate, a high level of indebtedness, and rising unemployment. And while water services are public here, it was noted that the water system is being targeted by transnational corporations that now see an opening given the economic instability and the privatization conditions that accompany international loans. But one local speaker assured the 80-plus people gathered for Water Justice Day that the dangers of privatization are well understood by a wide number of Tunisians and that they will defend their public water system.

The Aljazeera article concludes, "Those gathering in Tunisia today hope that someday, economic policy will be written for the Mohammed Bouazizis of the world rather than the bankers." It will be that spirit that we will march with through the streets of Tunis today.

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