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Tunisian Town's Commerce Hurt By Libyan Unrest

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Tunisian Town's Commerce Hurt By Libyan Unrest

Africa

Tunisian Town's Commerce Hurt By Libyan Unrest

Tunisian Town's Commerce Hurt By Libyan Unrest

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The Tunisia town of Ben Gardane borders with Libya. The town is home to a vibrant and colorful Libyan-Tunisian economy. But the uprising in Libya is changing the way of life for business owners in Ben Gardane.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, in for Steve Inskeep, who's reporting from Cairo.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The battle over the cities of Libya have brought conflicting reports this morning over who controls a key rebel city west of the capital, Tripoli. Moammar Gadhafi's military has repeatedly bombed Zawiyah, and it may once again be under government control.

Because Zawiyah is on the road to Tunisia the unrest has all but sealed that border. That's changing the way of life for business owners who rely on a lively commerce between the two countries. NPR's David Greene is in Tunisia, in the border town of Ben Gardane.

And, David, tell us what the scene is like there.

DAVID GREENE: Hi, Renee. I sort of want you to imagine the road out of Libya. And it's a mile or two here just full of stalls with metal roofs and every cheap Libyan good you can imagine being marked up. I mean, we have rugs and pots and pans and canisters of gasoline. And there's a lot less of it now.

I'm actually talking to you from Mohammed's Fabric Shop - he only gave us his first name - under his metal roof. And I'm going to play you a little bit of tape with a conversation with him followed by the voice of Akhlem al-Mari(ph), who changes money out on the street here, and Fraj Beneza(ph), who's a business owner from Tunis. They all say that the unrest in Libya is just killing their business.

Have things changed over the last month with the unrest in Libya, like his business, at all?

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: They basically stopped their activity because they don't have any fabric selling out of Libya right now.

GREENE: How dramatic is it? I mean, has his business dropped like...

Mr. ACLEM AL-MARI: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: Dropped maybe 8 percent, if not more.

GREENE: What does he do? What kind of - what part of the business is?

Unidentified Man: He's the change guy. He changes money.

GREENE: Is his business like killed right now?

Mr. AL-MARI: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: He's basically jobless. He used to wake up at dawn with a prayer, now he wakes up at 9, he says.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: She said we're taking it easy after things change. That's right (unintelligible). That's...

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: We'd rather live on water and bread than have Gadhafi still there.

MONTAGNE: So changing money is classic border town, but it sounds like some real empathy there. Possibly, what, because Tunisians know what revolution is like now that their own uprising in January sparked much of the upheaval we're seeing now?

GREENE: I think that's exactly it, Renee. I mean, they toppled their president here back in January. And there's still a sense of pride in Tunisia that they have inspired a lot of the upheaval and protests in this part of the world.

It's amazing, though, the rhythm of life has returned here. We drove through some towns this morning to get here to Ben Gardane. And seeing girls interviewing heir veils, you know, chatting and laughing on the streets, heading to school and businesses open. And it's just such a contrast, Renee. You know, the life returning to normal here compared to the scene of terror just across the border in Libya.

MONTAGNE: And David, you spoke to us last week about the dire refugee situation. With this border somewhat closed, has that flow really slowed down?

GREENE: Well, it's actually something international aid groups are concerned about. But the border is still open to refugees on the Tunisia side. But aid groups don't know what's going on on the Libyan side. There's still a refugee camp here run by the United Nations. It's very full.

But the flow has really slowed down and it's shifting the attention among aid groups to what's happening in Libya. They think there might be a lot of people trying to get out who haven't been able to. There are camps on that side. And obviously getting humanitarian relief to people inside Libya right now - just a much more difficult task than helping people on this side of the border.

MONTAGNE: The focus, of course, has been on Libya in recent days. But tell us what the situation in Tunisia is following the ouster of the president there.

GREENE: Well, it's an interim government, Renee, that is sort of struggling to get on its feet. There have still been protests in Tunisia trying to convince the new government to nail down a new constitution and promise real free elections.

I think what you're seeing here is - if you can call it just since January - a more mature situation, because they've been through the revolution. Now they're taking the very tough steps to kind of define a new future.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Greene, speaking to us from the town of Ben Gardane in Tunisia along the border with Libya.

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