Tunisia's Tourism Plunged 40 Pct Amid Jan. Unrest

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) - Tunisia's new tourism minister says the North African country known for its wide beaches and ancient ruins now has a new lure for holidaymakers: they can hang out with Arab-world revolutionaries.

Mehdi Haouas said Friday tourism revenues and visits in Tunisia have plunged by 40 percent in January during the popular uprising that brought down the country's iron-fisted president.

"The revolution that this country just went through offers new opportunities insofar as it has shown off an extraordinary people to the world," said Haouas, who took his post in a government reshuffle last week.

The comments attempt to show that Tunisia is turning the page on its upheaval that forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee and has been a spark to popular unrest that has shaken autocratic regimes across the region - most notably in Egypt.

Despite his optimism for the long-term, Haouas cautioned that Tunisia's tourism could be facing a further decline in February, a blow to the industry that makes up more than six percent of the country's total economic output and employs some 400,000 people - or four percent of the population.

"We want to reassure all our friendly countries who send their citizens on vacation in Tunisia, that they can from now on do so in total security in addition to an atmosphere of absolute freedom," Haouas said.

Tunisian authorities on Friday eased a curfew, which was first put in place a day before Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 in the wake of deadly clashes between police and protesters. The new curfew will last from midnight to 4 a.m., state news agency TAP reported.

Bassaran Ulosoy, who heads the federation of Turkish travel agencies, pledged to boost tenfold tourism from Turkey to Tunisia over the next two years.

During 23 years of Ben Ali's autocratic rule, Tunisia was a usually placid destination known for wide beaches, deserts and ancient ruins - a favored getaway for Europeans seeking the Mediterranean sun and shore.