Workers around Tunisia went on strike Thursday to demand higher pay in a standoff with a government struggling to reduce unemployment, poverty and social tensions. All flights in and out of the North African country's main airport were cancelled, and schools nationwide were closed. Ports, public transport, hospitals and other public services were also disrupted. Marathon last-minute negotiations between the government and union umbrella group UGTT failed to avert Thursday's strike by public sector workers.
Thousands of people gathered at the national union headquarters in Tunis and marched through the capital's main thoroughfare, carrying signs reading "Get Out!" and "The People Want the Fall of the Regime."
In recent months, Tunisia has been under pressure from international lenders, mainly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to take drastic measures to revamp its economy. IMF has urged public sector salary freezes and other reforms in exchanges for loans to Tunisia's struggling economy. Similar rallies were held throughout the country, notably in southern provinces where the strike nearly paralyzed public services. Thursday's strike comes after new tensions erupted last month when a journalist set himself on fire to protest unfulfilled promises of Tunisia's 2011 Arab Spring revolution. The incident was reminiscent of the case of street vendor Mohamed Bouaziz, who set himself on fire more than eight years ago, sparking the Arab Spring uprisings.