Tunisia's PM seeks to calm protests

Tunisian protesters confront security forces blocking access to the governorate's offices in Tunis during a demonstration over price hikes and austerity measures

A small group of demonstrators gathered in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on Thursday, demanding the release of hundreds arrested in anti-government protests.

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.

Protests against rising prices and tax increased spread to around 10 towns across the North African country, residents told Reuters.

Police have insisted they did not kill the man.

They also feel neglected and angry over price rises the government says are necessary to improve the long-struggling economy and qualify for foreign aid.

"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", Popular Front leader Hamma Hammami told reporters.

While Tunisia is widely seen as the only democratic success story among the nations where Arab spring uprisings took place, it has since had nine governments but none has been able to tackle growing economic problems.

Amnesty International has accused the Tunisian authorities of using
237 Tunisia protesters arrested in clashes this week

The eruption of mass social upheaval comes just over seven years after the self-immolation of the 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi triggered a sweeping revolt that brought down the Western-backed dictatorship of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Leila Ghrairi, 51, a civil servant who came to support the protesters in Tunis, said she was not anxious about another Arab Spring.

More than 200 young people rallied in Tunis following a call from the Fech Nestannew (What Are We Waiting For?) campaign for a major protest against the measures imposed at the start of the year. The army was deployed into towns across the country to protect government buildings, which have become targets.

Clashes between protesters and police, who fired tear gas to clear the crowds, were recorded in at least 20 towns and cities including Tunis as well as in Gafsa, Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of Tunisia's Arab Spring in 2011.

Tunisia's main opposition party called for continued, more peaceful protests.

Last year, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund agreed a four-year loan programme worth about $2.8 billion with Tunisia, tied to economic reforms. One person has died.

The protests draw on anger over price and tax increases included in this year's budget that took effect on January 1.



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