Tunisian authorities arrested 150 more people, including opposition leaders, on Friday, bringing the number of detainees to nearly 800 in response to protests this week over price hikes and new taxes. This was reported by Reuters.
The protests, some of which have been violent, have spread across the country since Monday and a protester was killed before it subsided on Thursday. Protesters burned dozens of government offices, prompting the government to send troops to several sites to protect buildings that became a target for protesters.
Opposition activists and politicians called for fresh demonstrations in the capital on Friday and on Sunday to mark the seventh anniversary of the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was the first to oust him in the Arab Spring protests in 2011 that swept across the region.
After days of fierce clashes, the protest was limited on Thursday and was limited to sporadic clashes in the northern city of Siliana, in southern Tunisia and Sidi Bouzid in central Tunis. A witness said calm prevailed on Friday with only about 200 protestors demonstrating peacefully in the capital.
“The protests have declined and there was no sabotage last night, but police yesterday arrested 150 people involved in rioting in the past few days, bringing the number of detainees to 778,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khalifa al-Shaibani said. He added that among the detainees 16 “Tkfiria”.
The United Nations has called on the government to refrain from carrying out arbitrary arrests.
“We are concerned about the high number of arrests,” spokesman Robert Colville told reporters in Geneva. We now know that about 778 people have been arrested since Monday and about a third are between the ages of 15 and 20 years and are therefore young.”
“We call upon the authorities to ensure that individuals are not arbitrarily detained and that all detainees are treated with full respect for their rights, either charged or released immediately.”
A judicial source said three PFLP leaders were detained in Gafsa on suspicion of involvement in burning and vandalizing government buildings.
But the Popular Front said that leaders of them were arrested in several cities in the framework of a political campaign to hit the opponents of the government. “The government is reproducing the methods of the oppressive Ben Ali regime,” she said. Other members of the group were arrested in Mahdia and al-Karabiya.
The anger was triggered by the 2018 budget, which included increases in the price of a number of consumer and gasoline items and the imposition of new taxes from the beginning of this year.
The Interior Ministry said the authorities also arrested four men for throwing Molotov cocktails at a Jewish school on Tuesday. The ministry said they had no religious motives but wanted to create chaos.
– “Vandals” –
The government blamed the opposition and “saboteurs” for fueling unrest, a charge denied by the opposition. The government has vowed not to back down from its austerity measures to appease foreign lenders.
“There were no protests but there were vandals,” the government said in a statement, adding that the authorities respected the right to demonstrate, but the acts of vandalism would be controlled.
Fuel prices and some consumer goods rose as well as higher taxes on cars, telecommunications, internet services, hotel stays and other services.
The West views Tunisia as the only democratic success among the Arab Spring uprisings. But nine governments have been in power since then and none have been able to address growing economic problems.
Tunisia seems to have no way of reversing austerity measures. The IMF said Tunisia was committed to “decisive measures” to reform its economy before the IMF considered paying the next tranche of the loan.
Last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a four-year lending program worth about $ 2.8 billion to Tunisia but linked it to economic reforms.
The 2018 budget has also raised customs duties on some imports and the Tunisian government is trying to reduce the public sector budget to pay salaries through voluntary layoffs.