Tunisia defends 'provocative adverts' to woo tourists

A bus in London carrying a showing an advert of a woman receiving a massage, next to the words: "They say that in Tunisia, some people receive heavy-handed treatment"
Image caption Tunisia's advertising agency says it wanted to be provocative in its campaign to attract tourists

Tunisia has defended a controversial advertising campaign to attract tourists who deserted the country after its revolution in January.

It includes billboards in London of a woman getting a massage, next to the words: "They say that in Tunisia some people receive heavy-handed treatment."

At least 200 people were killed during the Tunisian uprising which began in December.

It led to the collapse of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's regime.

Tourism is crucial to Tunisia's economy. With a population of little more than 10 million people, the industry provides about 400,000 jobs and is worth about $2.5bn (£1.5bn) to the economy.

'Nothing but ruins'

Syrine Cherif, whose advertising agency Memac Ogilvy came up with the campaign for the Tunisian Tourism Board, said it was intended to create a "buzz" among potential tourists in the UK and other countries.

"The idea was to be provocative to address possible fears around the issue of the Arab spring," she told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Other advertisements show ancient Roman ruins next to the words: "They say Tunisia is nothing but ruins."

She denied the campaign showed insensitivity towards Tunisians who had been jailed, tortured or killed during Mr Ben Ali's rule of 23 years.

"This unfair treatment was done by people who were in the dictatorship and now the dictatorship has gone. It's over. Today it's a new Tunisia," she said.

"The campaign is for foreigners, not targeting Tunisian people," she added.

Tunisia was the first country to be hit by the popular uprisings which have swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Mr Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January after losing the support of the military.

His trial in absentia, for charges ranging from conspiring against the state to drug trafficking, starts on Monday.

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