Tunisian customs officer dies after setting self on fire

TUNIS - A Tunisian customs officer has died after setting himself on fire, officials said Thursday, in an apparent protest mirroring that of a graduate which sparked a popular revolt.

The 54-year-old died in Monastir on Wednesday night after suffering "third-degree burns all over his body," said Radhouane Harbi, head of the Fattouma Bourguiba hospital's emergencies unit.

Mongi Belkadhi, spokesman for civil protection, told AFP the man had on Tuesday sprayed his uniform with petrol and set himself alight outside a hotel in the touristic area of the eastern coastal city.

A customs official told private television channel Nessma that the man had been on sick leave and had said he wanted to return to work.

The government department that employed the man was not immediately available for comment.

In December 2010, young university graduate Mohamed Bouazizi who eked out a living as a fruit seller set himself alight to protest police harassment and unemployment in the central town of Sidi Bouzid.

His act, from which he died weeks later, ignited the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that later spread to several Arab capitals and brought down autocratic regimes.

In October, a Tunisian street vendor died after he also set himself on fire in second city Sfax in what media reports said was protest at authorities seizing his merchandise.

City officials said the young man had been arrested as he tried to sell 3,000 packs of contraband cigarettes.

Poverty and unemployment as well as demands for democratic reform were at the heart of the uprising that forced longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down in January 2011.

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