Tunisia deploys army as violent protests intensify

Frederick Owens
January 13, 2018

European governments warned travellers about the multi-day outbreak of unrest in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Several days of peaceful protests escalated on Monday night as youths began burning tires to block streets and went on to clash with security forces.

On Wednesday Prime Minister of the National Unity government Youssef Chahed was in Tebourba to speak to the people.

A year ago, the government agreed to a four-year loan programme with the International Monetary Fund worth about $2.8bn in return for economic reforms.

The country remains tense. Large protests that year forced the ouster of longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Hundreds more were arrested earlier in the week, with about 600 now in custody in total.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said 44 protesters were arrested for carrying weapons such as knives, setting government buildings on fire and robbing stores. More than 300 arrests have been made.

Speaking on Mosaique radio, he said 21 officers were injured in the latest skirmishes.

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

Tunisia has been under a state of emergency since the Arab spring protests in 2011.

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In a Tunis suburb, citizens intervened to help police hold off rioters armed with knives and firebombs trying to attack a train.

Tunisia has been gripped by protests, looting and vandalism since Monday, with riot police intervening to protect state institutions, public and private property and civilians.

"They have blocked roads and stolen in many cities ..."

A source from Tunisia's Ministry of Interior confirmed the official figure on Thursday evening.

Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

"I don't think it can lead to a new revolution, because we have still some hope that this kind of protests can start a dialogue with the government", she said. They also want to see better welfare for Tunisia's struggling families.

Chahed on Thursday accused political opponents and corrupt barons of stoking the unrest.

Tear gas was sacked into the crowds by police officers to disperse the protests in Tunis and Tebourba, a small town where a protester was killed on Monday.

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

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