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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Nobel Peace Prize Group in Hiroshima

Jul. 22, 2016

Members of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group that won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, have visited Hiroshima to learn about how the city healed after it was destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945.

Tunisia is considered the only success story of the Arab Spring movement. It began in that country more than 5 years ago, but the young democracy is struggling. Extremism is on the rise and the number of violent attacks is growing.

Three representatives of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet have been in Japan since Sunday. The Quartet represents labor unions, business, lawyers and human rights groups.

The group visited Hiroshima's peace memorial park. They laid flowers at the cenotaph and paid their respects to the victims of the bombing.

The members also toured the peace memorial museum, where they saw displays about the bombing, including photos of victims and their belongings. One of the visitors, Ouided Bouchamaoui, says their purpose is to learn how Hiroshima rebuilt from the devastation.

They met with atomic bomb survivor Keiko Ogura, who was 8 years old in August 1945.

"I saw the flash first, and then we crashed under the building, we were caught. Many people were asking for help, help, help, you know," Ogura says.

Ogura has dedicated her life telling the world about what occurred in Hiroshima. She told the guests that their visit means a lot to survivors.

"This destruction of a small country that, thanks to your will, you were able to rebuild. What we want, we want peace," said Ouided Bouchamaoui, president of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. "Besides our religion, besides our differences, we can live together. We can respect together. We can exchange ideas. We can accept each other."

Tunisia's new democracy is under stress, and the threat from the Islamic State militant group and other extremists is growing.

Last year, militants attacked so-called soft targets, including a museum and a popular resort. Still, the National Dialogue Quartet's achievements in Tunisia are an example to other parts of the Arab world seeking stability.

Protests against the government spread across Tunisia, after a 26-year-old man burned himself to death to protest police harassment in December 2010.

Then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in 2011, ending his 23-year dictatorship. The events became known as the “Jasmine Revolution.” This inspired a pro-democracy movement across the Middle East and North Africa known as the “Arab Spring.”

But as Tunisia's democratization began, opposition leaders were assassinated. Conflict between majority and minority parties grew and chaos spread.

The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was established in 2013. Its aim was to defuse the political crisis and heal the confrontation between different factions, including Islamic and secular groups. It promoted dialogue between politicians and the people.

The group created a roadmap for democracy, drafting a new constitution and electoral rules. In 2014, Tunisia's national assembly approved the constitution. Freedom of religion and expression, and gender equality are now legally protected.

Later that year, Tunisians elected a president. The new democratically elected government has since been coming to grips with the country's problems.

In 2015, these achievements were recognized by the Nobel Foundation, which awarded the quartet its peace prize for helping to guide democratization when it was in danger of collapsing in Tunisia.

"We are for freedom, we are for dialogue. Please choose dialogue, the only way to resolve your problems," Bouchamaoui said at the time.

The wave of democratization triggered changes to other Arab countries. But some, including Syria and Libya, are mired in civil war.

Despite these difficulties, the Tunisian Quartet remains an inspiration for other democracy movements, as the region strives for a more peaceful future.

Newsroom Tokyo's Sho Beppu recently visited Tunisia, where he met President Beji Caid Essebsi for an exclusive interview.

Beppu:Japan will shortly mark the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Some say that even the Japanese themselves tend to forget the importance of the message of peace from Hiroshima. So I would like to ask you if what Tunisia has experienced offers any lessons or values.

Essebsi: It is impossible to forget such an event, an event unique in history. It was the first time the atomic bomb was used. Other countries, such as ours, have no idea what this experience was like. Of course, there have been very serious human consequences. And I understand that Japanese still suffer from the results of that bombing. So, it is a major event, impossible to forget.

As for the Quartet, you know that Tunisia has started a policy of democratization. That policy was confirmed by the Nobel Peace Prize, and Tunisia's case is very special. And it is natural that the Quartet goes to Japan to commemorate this important moment, and calls for peace, since the Quartet won the Peace Prize.