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New protest calls as Tunisia marks uprising anniversary

© AFP | A Tunisian woman holds up a yellow card and a loaf of bread during a protest against price hikes and austerity measures in the capital Tunis on January 12, 2018

TUNIS (AFP) - 

Political parties and a union called for fresh protests on Sunday as Tunisia marked seven years since its Arab Spring uprising after a week that saw renewed unrest.

The North African country is seen as having had a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

But seven years later, anger has risen over new austerity measures after a year of rising prices, with protesters again chanting the 2011 slogans of "Work, Freedom and Dignity".

On Sunday, the powerful UGTT labour union called for Tunisians to rally in the capital Tunis.

Ennahda, an Islamist party that is part of the ruling coalition, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's Popular Front party also called for demonstrations.

With tensions high, security forces were deployed around the capital's Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the 2011 protests, and barricades set up to block off entrances.

President Beji Caid Essebsi was to attend the opening of a youth centre in the working-class Tunis suburb of Ettadhamen, which saw night-time clashes between young protesters and police this week.

Sunday's calls to demonstrate follow a wave of peaceful protests and night-time unrest in cities and towns across the country this past week after hikes in value-added tax and social security contributions from early January.

Protester demands have included a review of the 2018 austerity budget and more efficient measures to fight enduring corruption.

The interior ministry says it has arrested more than 800 people suspected of taking part in violence, theft and looting since the start of the nocturnal protests.

On Saturday, Essebsi announced an increase in aid to the needy and improved health care as part of social reforms following the unrest.

Tunisia's 2011 revolt was sparked by the deadly self-immolation of a fruit seller who was protesting against police harassment and unemployment.

© 2018 AFP