Saturday 24 February 2018

Strike looms as students arrested in Chad anti-austerity protest

Strike looms as students arrested in Chad anti-austerity protest
(AFP 01/30/18)

Trade unions in Chad called on Monday for a general strike, as anti-austerity protests grow alongside growing impatience with the regime of President Idriss Deby.

"The government has carried out all its wage threats," the unions said in a joint statement as they urged an immediate and "unlimited nationwide general strike"

The unions said the impending stoppage meant even their members working in the health sector would only be providing a "minimum service" for the duration.

The Union of Teachers of Chad (SET) and Union of Trade Unions of Chad (UST) had earlier held a general assembly meeting on how to proceed, as civil servants protested pay cuts enacted under new legislation hitting bonuses and allowances.

Civil organisations used a press conference to denounce wage cuts and rising fuel prices as well as a ban on "peaceful marches".

Chad, a Western ally in seeking to keep the spread of jihadism in check in the Sahara region, has endured two years of severe recession deepened by a three-year slump in oil prices.

The large Sahel nation, a former French colony, became an oil exporter in 2003, but almost half the population of 14 million still lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

- Students and schoolchildren arrested -

The government has chosen to pare back public spending, citing 800 billion CFA francs (1.2 billion euros/$1.5 billion) of debt to commercial banks, a move which has increased social tension and grumbles over Deby, who took power in 1990.

The country's finance minister warned last week that the central African nation risks bankruptcy without drastic spending cuts, while official figures show civil service salaries have increased sevenfold over the past decade and now total almost as much as the combined revenues from income tax and customs duties.

Tensions were already running high before the unions' strike call after Chadian police used tear gas earlier in the day to disperse youths protesting the anti-austerity measures in N'Djamena.

Scores of students and schoolchildren were arrested, an AFP journalist on the scene said, adding riot police were stationed outside some schools and at several key intersections in the capital.

Police said 112 arrests were made in all.

Police spokesman Colonel Paul Manga confirmed the arrests, adding that the youths were "being held by the crime squad."

He told AFP that several cars were stoned during the unrest.

All primary and secondary schools in N'Djamena, along with universities, were closed on Monday morning after the main higher education union called for a protest against pay cuts.

Last week saw a series of protests by teachers and pupils, hauliers and other groups in N'Djamena and several other cities.

Police said 67 people arrested during last week's unrest appeared in court Monday but were then released.

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