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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Tunisia PM promises end to economic hardship after clashes

Protests erupted in more than 10 towns across Tunisia on Monday against price and tax increases imposed by the government to reduce a ballooning deficit and an economic crisis. One protester was killed

Tunisian police search for protesters who carried out damage in Ettadhamen, on the outskirts of Tunis, on January 8, 2018. Sofiene Hamdaoui  / AFP
Tunisian police search for protesters who carried out damage in Ettadhamen, on the outskirts of Tunis, on January 8, 2018. Sofiene Hamdaoui / AFP

Tunisian prime minister Youssef Chahed sought to calm anti-austerity protesters on Tuesday with promises of an end to economic hardship, a day after one demonstrator was killed in clashes with police.

Protests erupted in more than 10 towns across Tunisia on Monday against price and tax increases imposed by the government to reduce a ballooning deficit and an economic crisis. One protester was killed in Tebourba, a town 40 kilometres west of Tunis.

Khelifa Chibani, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said 44 people had been arrested for carrying weapons such as knives, setting government buildings on fire and looting shops.

Mr Chahed said that while demonstrations were acceptable, violence was not.

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"People have to understand that the situation is extraordinary and their country is having difficulties but we believe that 2018 will be the last difficult year for the Tunisians," he added.

Anger has been building since the government said that, from January 1, it would increase the price of gas oil and some goods, as well as taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items as part of austerity measures agreed with its foreign lenders.

But Mr Chibani said: "What happened had nothing to do with democracy and protests against price hikes … Yesterday protesters burnt down two police stations, they looted shops, banks and damaged property in many cities."

The protests are much smaller compared to previous turmoil seen in Tunisia since the overthrow of autocratic ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

However, previous confrontations between government, labour unions, Islamists and secular forces also started small before escalating.

Tunisia's economy has been in crisis since a 2011 uprising unseated the government and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged tourism, which comprises 8 per cent of gross domestic product.