Saturday 24 February 2018

Fresh unrest in Tunisia after death at price rise demos

Fresh unrest in Tunisia after death at price rise demos
(AFP (eng) 01/10/18)

Fresh scuffles broke out on Tuesday night between Tunisian protesters and police, a day after the death of a man in violent demonstrations over rising costs and government austerity.

Hundreds of young people took to the streets of Tebourba, west of Tunis, pelting stones at security forces who responded by firing tear gas at them, an AFP journalist said.

Similar clashes were seen in the impoverished inland regions of Kasserine and Jelma, near Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Clashes also erupted in the central town of Gafsa, AFP reporters said.

An autopsy was carried out Tuesday to determine how a man in his 40s died during demonstrations the previous night in Tebourba, but the results were not made public as controversy continued over his death.

The police insisted they did not kill him, and said he suffered from "respiratory problems".

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed decried Monday night's unrest, telling a radio station that "we didn't see protests, but instead people breaking things, stealing and attacking Tunisians".

"The government is ready to listen, but every person wanting to demonstrate must do so peacefully," he said.

Tunisia has seen several days of protests after activists and politicians denounced hikes in value-added tax and social contributions introduced at the start of the year as a tough new budget was implemented.

On Tuesday a peaceful rally of around a hundred people was held in the centre of Tunis calling for the end of austerity measures that are expected to increase the cost of living.

"Poverty and hunger have increased, oh oppressed citizen!" chanted the protesters, most of them young people.

They listed their demands, including the suspension of the 2018 Finance Act and a return to earlier prices for commodities, said Hamza Nasri, of a campaign group leading the protests.

Hundreds of people, many of them very young, also demonstrated in Regueb, in the deprived central part of the country, said an AFP correspondent.

Finance Minister Ridha Chalghoum said the government intended to stick with its tax rises, but insisted the VAT hike did not impact "basic necessities".

"Among the achievements of democracy is the opportunity to demonstrate, but we also have an obligation to work for a healthy Tunisian economy," he told AFP.

- Public discontent -

Protests are common in the North African state in the month of January, when Tunisians mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolt that unseated dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The country has been hailed for its relatively smooth democratic transition but seven years after the revolution tensions over economic grievances are high.

Overnight Monday police fired tear gas at youths who torched tyres and threw stones in the impoverished city of Kasserine.

Protesters also blocked roads in Sidi Bouzid.

An interior ministry spokesman said at least 44 people had been arrested, including 16 in Kasserine and 18 in working-class areas near Tunis.

A car pound in Kasserine was ransacked, Khalifa Chibani said, and buildings of the security forces damaged in the southern town of Hamma.

The unrest "had nothing to do with democracy or social demands", he told the Shems FM radio station.

National Security agency spokesman Walid Ben Hkima denounced "acts of violence and ransacking".

Tunisia's economy has struggled since the revolution, with growth remaining slow.

January 2016 saw the biggest wave of public discontent since the uprising as the death of an unemployed protester in Kasserine sparked days of unrest.

In December, unemployed protesters and activists marched through the streets of Sidi Bouzid, angry over the lack of jobs and opportunities that continue to plague residents.

The revolution in Tunisia began in the town in December 2010 after street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and later died in a protest over unemployment and police harassment that spiralled into Ben Ali's overthrow.

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