Published: Mon, January 15, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

TUNISIA: 770 arrested over protests against plans to raise taxes, basic goods

TUNISIA: 770 arrested over protests against plans to raise taxes, basic goods

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring: the one Arab country to topple a long-serving leader in that year's uprisings without triggering widespread violence or civil war.

Tunisia, the economy of which is dependent on tourism, had been ruled for 23 years by former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in January 2011 after massive and peaceful popular protests.

An AFP correspondent in the northern town of Siliana said police fired tear gas at dozens of youths who pelted them with stones during skirmishes that lasted around three hours overnight.

"We're concerned about the high number of arrests, some 778 people we understand have now been arrested since Monday, and around a third of those arrested were between the ages of 15 and 20 so very young", Colville told reporters in Geneva, Al Jazeera reported.

Several police stations have been set on fire.

One person died in unrest outside the capital, Tunis, and scores were injured, including 97 security officers in five days of unrest that began a week ago, Interior Ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani said on Friday.

The budget brought in an increase in value-added tax and social contributions along with price hikes on some goods and increased taxes on imports.

He said reforms that have been in the pipeline for several months will guarantee medical care for all Tunisians, without elaborating, and also provide housing to disadvantaged families.

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Even before the recent spate of protests there was simmering anger that life for many Tunisians had not improved since the Arab Spring.

"We discussed the general situation in the country and the reforms, especially socio-economic, that must be adopted to overcome the current problems", said Wided Bouchamaoui, head of the UTICA employers' federation. "It will help the poor and middle class".

More recently, Tunisia's government has increased taxes under the 2018 Finance Act. The IMF gave the country a $2.9bn (£2.2bn) loan in 2015.

"People here say that they want to continue to take to the streets in order to put more pressure on the government to scrap the austerity measures", he said.

What is the government reaction?

On January 8, security forces used batons to disperse a group of the movement's members as they marched peacefully in downtown Tunis to demand the release of fellow activists in custody.

President Essebsi accused foreign media of "amplifying" the unrest and damaging the country's image with its coverage.

Over half of the almost 800 people arrested for disturbances in the past few nights in Tunisia are between the ages of 21 and 30 years old, with 31.53% between the ages of 15 and 20, said Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani.

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