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Despair looms over Arab world

world Updated: Jan 18, 2011 01:50 IST

Two men set themselves on fire in Egypt and Mauritania Monday, raising to three the number of self-immolation attempts apparently influenced by a similar action in Tunisia that helped trigger a popular uprising.

The desperate acts raised concerns that the practice could become a trend among activists seeking to force change in a region that has little or no tolerance for dissent.

The Egyptian man was engulfed by flames after he ignited himself outside the parliament building in central Cairo. Policemen guarding the building and motorists driving by at the time used fire extinguishers to quickly put out the blaze, according to security officials.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahine said the man was taken to the hospital with light burns, mostly to his face, neck and legs. Officials identified him as Abdou Abdel-Monaam Hamadah, a 48-year-old owner of a small restaurant from Qantara, an area close to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia east of Cairo. Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media, said Hamadah was protesting a government policy preventing restaurant owners from buying cheap subsidised bread to resell to their patrons.

A Mauritanian man reportedly unhappy with the government also was hospitalised after setting himself on fire Monday. Witnesses say 43-year-old Yacoub Ould Dahoud drove to a government building in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, and torched himself in his car. Foreign ministry official Adbou Ould Sidi says police rushed him to the hospital.

The attempt follows similar incidents in Algeria. A local security official in Mascara says passersby stopped a fish monger who had poured gasoline on himself and tried to set himself alight. Another attempted to do the same in Ghardaia.

Monday's incidents appeared to be attempts to copy the fatal self-immolation last month of an unemployed Tunisian man. That event triggered the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisia's authoritarian president.