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237 Tunisia protesters arrested in clashes this week

Police vehicles stop in front of burning tires set up by protesters during demonstrations against rising prices and tax increases, in Tunis, Tunisia, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Around 237 people have been arrested in Tunisia this week for attacking police stations and government buildings during protests in several parts of the country, the Interior Ministry said yesterday.

Protests broke out last weekend and have since spread to more than 20 towns as people demonstrate against new taxes and price increases imposed by the Finance Act 2018 introduced on 1 January in order to reduce the increasing deficit.

The protests quickly turned into clashes at the start of the week with some protesters attacking the Jewish school island of Djerba. Around 50 policemen were reportedly wounded in the clashes and 237 arrested, according to the Interior Ministry spokesman, Khelifa Chibani.

Among those arrested were two men who orchestrated the storming of a police station in the town of Nefza.

Read: Tunisia’s opposition urges more protests until government drops austerity measures

“There are acts of looting and robbery but also a political message [being sent] from a section of the population that has nothing to lose and feels ignored,” according to political scientist Selim Kharrat. In the central town of Sidi Bouzid, young Tunisians blocked roads and hurled stones which security authorities responded with tear gas.

Activists have called for a major demonstration tomorrow against the country’s austerity measures which will provoke an increase to daily cost of living.

Since the start of the year, the government has increased the prices of petrol and other items and raised taxes on cars, phone calls and internet uses.

The Ennahda party has called on the government to raise the minimum monthly wage of $143.17 and better provide for poor families.

Taoufik Rajhi, minister of economic reforms, told Parliament this week that the state was unable to improve the country’s health sector, infrastructure and education whilst it has one of the highest wage bills in the world in relation to the size of its economy.

The government wants to cut the public sector wage bill to 12.5 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020 from the current 15 per cent and is trying to impose higher gas prices and contributions to social security.

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