Tunisian government denounces protesters after rioting death

2018-01-09 17:30
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Tunis - Tunisia's prime minister promised on Tuesday to crack down on rioters after violent protests over price hikes left one person dead and raised fears of broader unrest in the country that was the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

During clashes in several regions over recent days, a 45-year-old protester died while dozens were arrested and several police were injured. On Tuesday, masked riot police ringed a demonstration in the capital, Tunis, and the atmosphere remained tense.

The clashes earlier this week recalled the 2010-2011 protest movement that led to the ouster of authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings across the Arab world. Tunisia's economy has struggled ever since.

The current protests are being driven by economic considerations related to this year's budget. The Tunisian government is aiming to reduce the country's annual deficit to meet the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, which is providing $2.9bn in loans. In return for the money, the government is raising fuel prices and taxes on many products and services.

According to Tunisian media reports, banks, stores and police stations were targets of vandalism and looting, while roads have been blocked by blazing tires and protesters hurling gasoline bombs at police. The army has also intervened in the restive town of Kasserine, official news agency TAP reported.

The death of protester Khomsi Yefrni threatens to stoke further unrest.

Hospital and security officials say he died in Tebourba, about 30km from Tunis, after police fired tear gas on the protest he was taking part in. The Interior Ministry said he suffered from chronic respiratory problems.

While insisting that his government respects the right to protest, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said on Tuesday that recent demonstrations had descended into "acts of vandalism, looting and violence against citizens, and this is unacceptable."

The rioting, he said, was "outside of the law" and authorities will pursue troublemakers and those who incite them.

"We are in a democracy, and those who want to protest can do it during the day, not at night," he said.

He was speaking to reporters during a visit to Tunisian security forces on the tense border with troubled Libya, and said authorities should show "vigilance" to ensure that extremists in Libya don't try to cross the border and take advantage of Tunisia's unrest.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khalifa Chibani, speaking on Mosaique FM radio, accused unnamed perpetrators of spreading fake rumors on social networks to incite riots.

Authorities would not provide an overall estimate of how many people protested but witnesses suggested the sizes varied from dozens to hundreds in towns across the country.

Read more on:    tunisia  |  north africa

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