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Tunisians overcome taboos to find love on the Web

Written by: Staff

TUNIS, May 1 (Reuters) Tunisian technician Momo Battar says he has dated many women but that, without the Internet, he would never have found the woman of his dreams.

''She has her own particular enchantment and has found the way to my heart,'' the 32-year-old says. ''We will set up home and start a family soon.'' Battar's story is no longer a rare exception in Tunisian society, where love was once considered taboo among the young, and picking husbands and wives was the privilege of parents.

Improvements in living standards, advances in women's rights and the influence of Western culture have prompted many young Tunisians to look beyond their immediate environment for fulfilment.

Thousands have taken to the Internet to strike up relationships with people in the next village or on another continent.

Some say it is cheaper than meeting in a cafe, others that the anonymity of the Internet allows them to overcome shyness.

For 27-year-old barman Adnen, it offered him a ticket to Belgium, where his new e-girlfriend awaits as he prepares the immigration papers.

FOUR HOURS A DAY When Tunisia hosted an international conference on the Internet last November, it pledged to create a cybercafe in each village and an e-mail address for each person by 2009.

According to official figures, a tenth of Tunisia's 10 million people are already Internet subscribers and 30 per cent of citizens have an electronic address.

About a quarter of the 20,000 users of popular French language chat room www.amour.fr are Tunisians, according to data on the site.

''I spend four hours daily chatting. It's not shameful to get to know other people and form a relationship through the Internet,'' said Imen, a university student.

''Technology was made to benefit from and that's what we're doing,'' she says.

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