Tunisia arrests scores more as activists call for fresh protests
Tunisian authorities said Friday the number of people detained in a wave of violent protests had risen to nearly 800, as activists angered by austerity measures and rising prices called for renewed rallies at the weekend.
Protests, some violent, have flared across the North African country since Monday, prompting the government to send the army into several cities and towns.
The unrest rattled the northern town of Siliana late on Thursday, as police fired tear gas at dozens of youths who pelted them with stones. Sporadic clashes were also reported in Sidi Bouzid, in central Tunisia, and in the southern city of Douz.
But the situation appeared calmer in other flashpoint towns and neighbourhoods that had seen clashes that left dozens of police officers injured.
Interior ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said 151 people were arrested Thursday, taking the number detained for alleged involvement in the violence to 778.
Chibani told local radio that clashes between youths and police were "limited" and "not serious", and insisted no acts of violence, theft or looting were recorded Thursday evening.
Activists and opposition politicians have appealed for fresh demonstrations in the capital, Tunis, on Friday and on Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the toppling of authoritarian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia is considered a rare success story of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in the North African country in 2011 and spread across the region, toppling autocrats.
But the authorities have failed to resolve the issues of poverty and unemployment.Prices have increased for fuel and some consumer goods, while taxes on cars, phone calls, the Internet, hotel accommodation and other items have also gone up.
The protests draw on anger over price and tax increases included in this year's budget that took effect on Jan. 1. The budget also raises customs taxes on some imports, and the Tunis government is trying to cut the public sector wage bill through voluntary redundancies.
The government has vowed not to back down on the austerity measures, taken to satisfy foreign lenders. It has blamed the opposition and "troublemakers" for stoking unrest, a charge the opposition has denied.
Three local leaders of the Popular Front, the main opposition bloc, were detained on Thursday in the central city of Gafsa for allegedly setting fire to a government building, a judicial source said.
The Popular Front said its leaders had been targeted in a political campaign that was "reproducing the methods of the oppressive Ben Ali regime". Party members had also been arrested in Mahdia and Karbariya, it said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)