TUNISIA: Army deployed, 300 arrested as violent unrest persists

TUNISIA: Army deployed, 300 arrested as violent unrest persists

Almost 800 people have been arrested in a wave of violent protests in Tunisia, authorities said on Friday after fresh unrest over austerity measures hit a provincial town.

Peaceful demonstrations turned violent on Monday and Tuesday (8 and 9 January) as protesters began to attack police.

Olfa Lamloum, the Tunisia country manager for International Alert, a nonprofit that seeks peaceful resolution to conflicts, said she anxious "that we have the same narrative as before the revolution".

The IMF gave the country a $2.9bn (£2.2bn) loan in 2015.

Protests against rising prices and tax increased spread to around 10 towns across the North African country, residents told Reuters. Many people face unemployment, with official figures put the unemployment rate at around 15 percent.

Police and army forces were deployed in several cities during the night, including in Tebourba 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital Tunis, where hundreds of young people took to the streets after the funeral of a man in his 40s who died in unrest on Monday night. There have also been reports of crowds targeting Jewish community sites.

"The protests have declined and there was no damage, but last night the police arrested 150 people involved in rioting in the past few days, bringing the total number of detainees to 778", Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said.

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"What is happening is crime, not protests".

The 2018 budget also raises customs taxes on some imports, and the Tunis government is trying to cut the public sector wage bill through voluntary redundancies.

"It's getting more and more hard".

"The protesters in marginalized areas are portrayed by the authorities and mainstream media as looters or criminals", she said, but they are expressing "a real social despair". "They're seeking our protesters and accusing them of things that just don't make sense", Heythem Guesmi of the activist group Manich Msamah told the Guardian.

Six years since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been held up as a model by avoiding the violence that affected other nations after their Arab Spring revolts.

Since Ben Ali's toppling seven years ago, Tunisia has been relatively stable compared to its neighbor, Libya, despite occasional unrest and terrorist attacks.

What is the economic situation in Tunisia? High levels of external debt and a tourism industry hampered by terrorist threats have seen the country's economy stagnate, however.