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Mussa warns Arabs of 'unprecedented' anger


Arab League chief Amr Mussa warned Arab leaders on Wednesday the grievances of ordinary Tunisians that sparked a popular uprising were linked to "unprecedented anger" in the region.

Mussa, addressing an Arab economic summit in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, said the upheaval in Tunisia was triggered by the same frustration sweeping Arab societies.

"The revolution that happened in Tunisia is not far from the subject of this summit," Mussa said.

"The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession ... The political problems, the majority of which have not been fixed ... have driven the Arab citizen to a state of unprecedented anger and frustration."

The summit marks the first gathering of Arab leaders since Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to step down and fled his country last Friday after 23 years in power.

The self-immolation of 26-year-old Mohammed Bouzizi that unleashed a wave of deadly street riots across Tunisia has set off a rash of copycat attempts in Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania.

Arab leaders, many of whom rule over populations with similar grievances as those of the protesters in Tunisia, have denied any similarity with the North African country.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said the prospect of a Tunisia-style uprising in his country was "nonsense."

President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, made no reference to the Tunisian revolt in his opening speech but acknowledged economic development and cooperation had become a national security priority.

"We have realised that the priority of economic cooperation and development is no longer just about progress for our people ... but a basic demand of Arab national security," he said.

The one-day meeting was expected to implement the resolutions of the last such summit held in Kuwait in 2009, notably to set up a two-billion-dollar fund to finance small- and medium-sized businesses.

The summit also takes place as early results indicate most southern Sudanese voted for independence in a referendum this month expected to partition Africa's largest country.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who faces strident criticism from the opposition at home, saluted the Tunisians in his address and urged them "and the government to work together to restore stability."

In a region where rulers often assume power through coups or inheritance, the Tunisian uprising was unprecedented in that a highly autocratic ruler was forced out by popular protests.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane, who briefed his counterparts in Sharm el-Sheikh on developments in his country, told reporters on Tuesday the protests were fuelled by political and economic grievances.

Morjane left the country on Wednesday without attending the summit, leaving Tunisia to be represented by its ambassador to Egypt.

One summit delegate, on condition of anonymity, said it was expected to produce empty pledges like previous gatherings of heads of state of the 22-member Arab League.

But the economic roots of the Tunisian uprising have added urgency to the adoption of measures to alleviate poverty in the Arab world, he said.