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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Tunisia unrest: 200 arrested and dozens hurt 

A second night of clashes took place overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday between police and protesters angry at new austerity measures

Tunisian protesters throw stones at security forces in the Djebel Lahmer district of Tunis early on January 10, 2018. Sofiene Hamdaoui / AFP
Tunisian protesters throw stones at security forces in the Djebel Lahmer district of Tunis early on January 10, 2018. Sofiene Hamdaoui / AFP

Tunisia's interior ministry said on Wednesday that more than 200 people had been arrested and dozens hurt during clashes between police and protesters angry at new austerity measures.

It followed a second night of unrest in several parts of the country.

Tunisia has experienced a relatively smooth transition to democracy since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. But public anger has been rising after a tough new budget was applied at the start of the year, increasing value added tax (VAT) and social contributions.

Interior ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said on Wednesday that 206 "troublemakers" were arrested overnight, while 49 police officers had been wounded in clashes across the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Mr Chibani added that properties had also been damaged, including a branch of the Carrefour supermarket chain in the suburbs of Tunis that was looted.

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A witness to the looting said young people threw stones at the shop's windows on Tuesday evening, taking advantage of the chaos to steal goods, including electrical appliances. The police intervened, firing tear gas.

Police and army forces were deployed in several cities during the night, including in the town of Tebourba — 30 kilometres west of Tunis — where hundreds of young people took to the streets after the funeral of a man in his 40s who was killed in unrest on Monday night, AFP said.

Police have insisted they did not kill the man. The results of an autopsy have not been made public.

Unrest was also reported in the working-class neighbourhoods of Djebel Lahmer and Zahrouni on the outskirts of Tunis, the central cities of Gafsa and Kasserine, and the northern town of Jedaida.

Calm had returned to these areas by Wednesday morning, however.

In the central town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, youths blocked roads and hurled stones. The police retaliated with tear gas.

Elsewhere, two Molotov cocktailswere thrown at a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, setting fire to the building, Associated Press reported.

The president of Djerba's Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told AP that Tuesday's attack was perpetrated by two people on a motorbike. He said the synagogue suffered no damage.

"The perpetrators want to sow dissension between Jewish and Muslim communities living in harmony on the island for many years," Mr Trabelsi said.

Djerba is home to Tunisia's main Jewish community.

The recent unrest in Tunisia started last week with peaceful protests against the austerity measures, but escalated into clashes with police overnight from Monday to Tuesday.

Activists have called for a massive demonstration on Friday against the austerity measures, which are expected to increase the cost of living.

They have called for the revision of the 2018 Finance Act behind the VAT and social contribution rises, as well as better welfare for struggling families.

The powerful UGTT trade union said young unemployed Tunisians had legitimate demands but condemned the "violence and looting", calling for peaceful protests.

Tunisia's economy has struggled since the 2011 revolution, which was fuelled by unemployment and graft.

In recent years, protests have been common in the country in the month of January, when Tunisians mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

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 last year, 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 Mr Ben Ali's overthrow.

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