Factbox: Tunisia in profile before Arab Spring election

Sun Oct 23, 2011 2:54pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Tunisia is holding its first ever free elections on Sunday. Some 11,000 candidates representing 110 parties will contest 218 seats in an assembly to rewrite the North African country's constitution.

Here are some details about Tunisia, 10 months after a popular uprising toppled its autocratic president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, sparking similar movements that reshaped the political landscape of the Arab world.

* ECONOMY:

-- The financial system is stabilizing and bank deposits are rebounding after the protests, its central bank chief said late last month.

-- To revive the economy, which suffered severe disruption in the revolution, Tunisia's central bank cut its key interest rate by 50 basis points to 3.5 percent.

-- In May the African Development Bank approved a $500 million loan to Tunisia to meet the immediate requirements and priorities of the country. The loan was part of an overall $1.4 billion program financed by the World Bank.

-- The International Monetary Fund has forecast that Tunisia's gross domestic product will flatline in 2011, down from growth of more than 3 percent in 2010. The IMF says growth may rebound to 3.9 percent in 2012.

-- Official figures show revenues from tourism, which has accounted for 6.5 percent of the country's economy and employed one Tunisian in five, have plunged by almost 50 percent in the first six months of 2011.

-- There are about 700,000 people unemployed in Tunisia, or about 16 percent of the work force.

-- Unemployment among university graduates is now at 30 percent, according to the prime minister. He does not expect to solve the problem any time soon.

COUNTRY DETAILS:

-- Tunisia is the smallest of the Maghreb states. Over the millennia it has, at one time or another, been dominated by many of the world's historical great powers -- from the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals and Byzantines to the Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French. Carthage, founded by Phoenicians in the first millennium B.C., became the richest seaport of ancient times and a major city in the Roman Empire; its remains survive as a tourist attraction in a suburb of Tunis, the Tunisian capital.

-- By the beginning of the 19th century, virtually all the region's inhabitants spoke Arabic. Berber, the earlier language of the Maghreb, survived in Tunisia in only a few pockets, mainly in the extreme south.

-- Tunisia won independence from France in 1956. It has only had two presidents since then: Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali, who replaced him in 1987 after having his predecessor declared medically unfit.

POPULATION: 10.6 million (2011)

CAPITAL: Tunis - population 760,000 (2009)

RELIGION: Sunni Islam is the faith of over 98 percent of the population. There are also small groups of Jews and Catholics.

LANGUAGE: Arabic is the official language; French and Berber (Tamazight) are also spoken.

GEOGRAPHY: On the northern Mediterranean coast of Africa, with Algeria to the west and Libya to the east, Tunisia covers 164,149 sq km (63,378 sq miles). The south is mostly semi-arid or desert.

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