More than 500 arrested during Tunisia clashes

AFP, TUNIS

Fri, Jan 12, 2018 - Page 6

A third night of unrest has shaken parts of Tunisia where authorities yesterday said the number of arrests has risen above 500 as anger grows over austerity measures.

Police arrested 328 people on Wednesday for theft, looting, arson and blocking roads, the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior said, after arresting 237 the previous day.

However, ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said the “violence” was less intense than in previous days.

Twenty-one members of the security forces were injured, Chibani said.

The North African nation has been hailed for its relatively smooth democratic transition since a 2011 revolt that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings, but seven years after the revolution tensions over economic grievances are high.

Tunisia has seen rising anger over increases in value-added tax and social contributions after a tough new budget was applied at the start of the year.

After a calm day on Wednesday, residents said demonstrators in the evening took to the streets of Tebourba, a town west of the capital, Tunis, where a man in his 40s died in unrest on Monday night.

On a visit to a nearby town, Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed condemned acts of “vandalism” that “serve the interests of corrupt networks to weaken the state,” pointing the finger at a left-wing party that called for protests.

Fresh clashes broke out on Wednesday night in the northern town of Siliana, where youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

Police responded with tear gas, reporters said.

There were similar scenes in Kasserine, a town in Tunisia’s neglected central region, with protesters burning tires to block roads and some throwing stones at police.

The army has been deployed around banks, post offices and other government buildings in the nation’s main cities, the Tunisian Ministry of Defense said.

There have been no figures given for the number of protesters injured in the clashes.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of young people took to the streets of Tebourba for the funeral of the man who died.

Police have insisted they did not kill him.

Tunisian Minister of Public Health Imed Hammami said that results of an autopsy would be made public yesterday.

Unrest was also reported in the working-class neighborhoods of Djebel Lahmer and Zahrouni on the outskirts of Tunis, the central cities of Gafsa and Kasserine, and the northern town of Jedaida.

In the central town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 uprisings, youths blocked roads and hurled stones, while police retaliated with tear gas, a reporter said.

The unrest started with peaceful protests against the austerity measures last week, but escalated into clashes with police on Monday and Tuesday.

Activists have called for a massive demonstration today against the austerity measures, which are expected to increase the cost of living.