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Tunisia anti-austerity protests turn deadly

January 9, 2018

Protests have broken out across Tunisia after austerity measures came into effect on January 1. The country's main opposition party has said it will keep protests going until the government drops its 2018 budget.

Tunesien Ausschreitungen & Protest gegen steigende Preise
Image: picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/Y. Gaidi

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Tuesday promised to crack down on rioters after two days of anti-austerity rallies in the country.

"What some Tunisian areas saw overnight could not be considered a way of protest, but acts of theft, looting and attacks on Tunisians' properties," Chahed said. "The only solution for confronting those involved in looting and attacks on Tunisians and their properties is applying the law."

The details

  • Protests broke out in more than 10 towns against price and tax increases put in place by the government in an attempt to stabilize Tunisia's economic crisis.
  • About 300 people demonstrated in the streets of the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, the center of the country's Arab Spring revolution.
  • A 43-year old male protester died in unclear circumstances in the town of Tebourba, 40 kilometers west of the capital Tunis. 
  • The Interior Ministry denied that the protester was killed due to police violence, but an autopsy would be carried out to determine the cause of death
  • National Security chief Walid Ben Hkima said 11 officers were wounded in the clashes, some after being hit by stones and Molotov cocktails.
  • 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.

Read more: Seven years after Arab Spring, Tunisia's future uncertain

Tunisia – a struggling young democracy

Austere beginnings

Tunisians have become increasingly frustrated since the government said it would increase the price of gasoil, some goods, and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items from January 1, as part of austerity measures agreed upon with its foreign lenders.

Read more: Tunisia one year after: the beginning of change

"What happened had nothing to do with democracy and protests against price hikes ... Yesterday protesters burned down two police stations, they looted shops, banks and damaged property in many cities," Interior Ministry spokesman Chibani said.

The leader of Tunisia's main opposition party Popular Front, Hamma Hammami, said they would increase protests until the government dropped the "unjust" 2018 budget.

Read more: Terror and tourism in Tunisia

"Today we have a meeting with the opposition parties to coordinate our movements, but we will stay on the street and we will increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law will be dropped," Hammami told reporters.

Roots in the Arab Spring

Tunisia's economy has been in crisis since the 2011 uprising unseated the government and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged the country's tourism industry, which accounted for eight percent of gross domestic product.

Read more: Tunisia declares state of emergency after massacre

The January protests are much smaller compared to the previous turmoil seen in Tunisia since the overthrow of autocrat ruler Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, but past confrontations between government, labour unions, Islamists and secular forces have also started small before escalating.

law/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)