Two dozen white-clad Imperial Troopers and other Star Wars characters marched Wednesday down a stately, tree-lined avenue in Tunis, Tunisia — a site where activists once fought riot police during the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.

The empire was not striking back against the poster child for Arab democracy — just an innovative campaign to encourage tourists to return to this sunny desert-and-beach nation in North Africa.

"We came here to Tunis to help save the Star Wars sites in Matmata and Tozeur and convince people to return to Tunisia," said Ingo Kaiser, head of a Star Wars fan club in Europe, referring to the movie sets that are slowly being covered up by sand in the Tunisian desert.

He wore the khaki overalls and large helmet of the two-legged AT-ST machines that battled rebels in the forest of Endor in the 1983 film "Return of the Jedi."

After long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in 2011, Tunisia was rocked by labor unrest, terrorist attacks and political assassinations. That devastated Tunisia's key tourism sector, which contributes 7 percent to the country's GDP and employs 400,000 people.

So the Tunisian National Office for Tourism teamed up with the country's new Star Wars fan club to stage the country's its first Star Wars encounter. Fan clubs from Europe took part in Wednesday's parade and screenings of the Star Wars films will take place at the desert movie sets over the next few days.



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