One dead and more than 200 arrested in Tunisia protests

One person has died, 50 policemen injured and more than 200 people arrested in two nights of violent protests in Tunisia

(Photo: The Guardian)
(Photo: The Guardian)

One person has died, 50 policemen injured and more than 200 people arrested in two nights of violent protests in Tunisia, driven by anger over austerity measures.

The protests broke out after activists and politicians denounced increases in VAT and the introduction of social contributions at the start of the year as a tough new budget was implemented.

Properties were damaged, the ministry said, including a branch of the Carrefour supermarket chain in the suburbs of Tunis that was looted.

On Tuesday night, a Jewish school on a Tunisian island that is home to an ancient Jewish community was also attacked.

Police and army forces were deployed in several cities during the night, including in Tebrourba 30 km west of the capital Tunis, where hundreds of young people took to the streets after the funeral of a 45-year-old man who died in the unrest on Monday night.

At least 300 protesters clashed with police officers in Tebourba on Tuesday
At least 300 protesters clashed with police officers in Tebourba on Tuesday

Police have insisted they did not kill the man. The results of an autopsy have not been made public.

Unrest was also reported in the southern city of Gafsa, in Kasserine in central Tunisia and in Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Protests have become common in Tunisia in January, the anniversary of the 2011 revolt. While Tunisia is widely seen as the only democratic success story among the nations where Arab spring uprisings took place, it has since had nine governments but none has been able to tackle growing economic problems.

A year ago, the government agreed to a four-year loan programme with the International Monetary Fund worth about $2.8bn in return for economic reforms.

While insisting that his government respected the right to protest, the prime minister, Youssef Chahed, said on Tuesday that recent demonstrations had descended into “acts of vandalism, looting and violence against citizens.”

“We are in a democracy, and those who want to protest can do it during the day, not at night,”said Chahed, who heads a coalition of Islamist and secular parties.

“People have to understand that the situation is extraordinary and their country is having difficulties, but we believe that 2018 will be the last difficult year for the Tunisians.”

The demonstrations have so far been much smaller than others in recent years. But the confrontations between the government, labour unions, Islamists and secular forces that led to the 2011 revolt also started on a small scale.

 

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