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Tunisia: 200 arrests and dozens wounded after another night of clashes

Ⓒ AFP – Fethi Belaid – | clashes between protesters against expensive living and police forces in Tebourba, west of Tunis on January 9, 2018

More than 200 people were arrested and dozens wounded in a new night of unrest across Tunisia, fueled by persistent social discontent and recent austerity measures.

Sporadic peaceful protests began last week in the country against rising prices and an austerity budget came into effect on January 1, providing for tax hikes.

The protest degenerated into riots that spread throughout the country on Monday night, with clashes after a man’s death during a demonstration in Tebourba, west of Tunis.

According to Interior Ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani, 49 policemen were injured during clashes across the country on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, and 206 people involved in the arrested disturbances.

Tuesday night, a supermarket in the southern suburbs of Tunis was looted. According to a witness, young people, most of them minors, threw stones at the windows in the early evening, taking advantage of the confusion thus sown to steal goods, including household appliances. The police responded with tear gas.

– Economic slump –

In the evening and at night, the police and the army were deployed in several Tunisian cities, including Sidi Bouzid, a disadvantaged city in the center of the country where the social protest marking the beginning of the Arab Spring began in December 2010.

Young people cut roads, threw stones and police fired tear gas much of the night, an AFP correspondent said.

On the island of Djerba, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the entrance to two Talmudic schools in the Jewish quarter, Hara el-Kbira. “There was no damage inside,” said Perez Trabelsi, an official of the Tunisian Jewish community.

Incidents have also occurred in Kasserine (center), Gafsa (south), Jedaida (north) or Zahrouni and Jebel Lahmer, popular neighborhoods of Tunis, found AFP correspondents, but the calm had returned Wednesday morning .

In Tebourba, 30 km west of Tunis, hundreds of young people took to the streets after the burial Tuesday afternoon of a man who died during clashes in the previous night, and clashes erupted with the police.

Ⓒ AFP – Fethi Belaid – | Clashes between protesters and police in the city of Tebourba, January 9, 2018

The controversy over the causes of the death of the man, aged 45, presented by demonstrators as a martyr while the results of the autopsy held on Tuesday have not yet been made public. The Interior Ministry denied that the man had been killed by the police, assuring him that he bore no signs of violence.

After several years of economic slump and massive hiring in the civil service, Tunisia is facing significant financial difficulties.

– Price increase –

In 2016, it obtained a new credit line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), amounting to 2.4 billion euros over four years, in exchange for a program to reduce deficits.

The powerful UGTT union, while recognizing the legitimacy of the demands of many unemployed youth, condemned “violence and looting”, calling for “peaceful protest not to be used by parties who do not want the good of our nascent democratic experience. ”

The activists of the “Fech Nestannew” campaign, launched at the beginning of the year to protest the price increases, called for mass demonstrations on Friday.

They demand a revision of the finance law, which has increased VAT and creates various other taxes, as well as better social security for families in difficulty and a plan to fight against corruption.

The month of January has traditionally been marked by social mobilization in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution. The context is particularly tense this year as the first post-revolution municipal elections, several postponed and scheduled for May, approach the presidential election scheduled for 2019.

In January 2016, during the last major wave of social protest, the anger over the death of a Protestant unemployed in Kasserine spread across the country, and the authorities had to declare a curfew for days.

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