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AMMAN - Governments across the Middle East anxiously watched developments in Tunisia on Sunday after the ouster

Jordanian protesters: 'where are the political reforms?'

 

Administrations in Mideast increasingly uneasy as opposition groups see inspiration in Tunisian uprising.

 

 

of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fearing the spread to their doorsteps of violence and popular revolt.

After 23 years of iron-fisted rule, the Tunisian president caved in to violent popular protests on Friday and fled to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first Arab leader to do so.

Administrations in the Middle East were cautious in their response to his toppling, but are increasingly uneasy about the situation as opposition groups seek to take advantage of the upheaval in the north African country.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit warned the West to stay out of Arab affairs, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called this week on Arab leaders to work with their peoples for reforms.

Abul Gheit described as "nonsense" fears that a Tunisian-style popular revolt could spread to other Arab countries.

Ben Ali's ouster appeared to embolden disenchanted youths in Yemen, with about 1,000 students taking to the streets of the capital Sanaa, urging Arabs to rise up against their leaders.

Flanked by human rights activists, the students marched from Sanaa University's campus to the Tunisian embassy, calling for Arab peoples to wage a "revolution against their scared and deceitful leaders."

"Leave before you are toppled," read one banner, without naming Yemen's own President Ali Abdullah Saleh. "Peaceful and democratic change is our aim in building a new Yemen."

Syria's pro-government daily Al-Watan said the events in Tunisia were "a lesson that no Arab regime should ignore, especially those following Tunisia's political approach of relying on 'friends' to protect them."

"Arab leaders on sale to the West should learn form the Tunisian lesson. They should make Arab decisions according to what is favourable to the interest of the Arab people and not those of faraway countries," Al-Watan said.

In Jordan, the powerful Islamist movement urged Arab regimes to carry out genuine reforms leading to "renaissance."

"Tyranny is the mother of all evil in the Arab world," it warned.

"We have been suffering in Jordan the same way Tunisians have been suffering," Muslim Brotherhood chief Hammam Said told 3,000 demonstrators who held a sit-in outside parliament to protest government economic policies.

"We must put an end to oppression and restrictions on freedoms and people's will," he said.

Opposition MPs in Kuwait agreed.

"I salute the courage of the Tunisian people... All regimes that oppress their peoples and fight Arab and Islamic identity will meet the same fate," Islamist MP Waleed al-Tabtabai said.

Iran, which has good ties with the north African country, said it hoped "the Muslim Tunisian nation's demands are fulfilled through peaceful and non-violent means."

"We have very good ties with this nation, and we hope they (the Tunisian people) achieve their main demands as soon as possible in peace, security and stability," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran.

Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani blamed the "United States and some Western countries" for the woes of Tunisians and branded their reaction to the unrest as "very funny," the ILNA news agency reported.

"The countries which were the main reason for tyranny and pressure on Tunisians are now playing sympathetic," he said. "Many countries should now take a lesson that super powers do not back them in hardship."

For Israel, the dramatic events in Tunisia were a sign of regional political instability.

"The region in which we live is an unstable region... " said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

"There can be changes in governments that we do not foresee today but will take place tomorrow."

Lebanon's Hezbollah urged Arab leaders to learn from the Tunisian protests.

Palestinian Islamic groups on Saturday hailed the ousting of Tunisia's hardline leader, saying the people of Tunisia were an inspiration to the rest of the Arab world.

"We congratulate the Tunisian people for their uprising against the tyrannical regime," Daoud Shihab, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad group.

The events in Tunisia "demonstrate that the Arab masses are able to bring change for freedom and rejection of tyranny and injustice," he said.

The Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers also praised the events, saying it represented the will of the Tunisian people.

"We are with our brothers, the people of Tunisia, in choosing their leaders no matter what the sacrifices are," Hamas' Interior Minister Fathi Hammad told reporters.

"This is an application of the people's will after being patient for a long time," he said.

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