Unrest over price hikes hits Tunisia, authorities probe death

Unrest over price hikes hits Tunisia, authorities probe death

The protest happened in Tebourba, some 40 km (25 miles) from Tunis.

"Three hundred and thirty people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery were arrested last night", Reuters quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani as saying.

The immediate cause of the unrest is government-imposed price and tax rises, which will raise the cost of basic goods but are said to be essential to cut a ballooning deficit and satisfy worldwide lenders.

The Tunisian government, a coalition of Islamist, secularist and independent factions, have accused criminal and opposition elements of being behind the protests.

Tunisia has experienced a relatively smooth transition to democracy since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said "violence will not be tolerated" and "the authorities have no other choice but to apply the law".

Tunisia has seen days of street protests against hikes in value-added tax and social security contributions introduced earlier this month as the government grapples with a growing budget deficit and the need to meet its foreign debt obligations.

The Tunisian Ministry of Interior confirmed in a statement on Monday evening that a 55-year-old man had died in a local hospital after being admitted with symptoms of dizziness.

"People have to understand that the situation is extraordinary and their country is having difficulties, but we believe that 2018 will be the last hard year for the Tunisians", Chahed said.

A state of emergency has been in effect in Tunisia since November 2015, following attacks that year at the Bardo Museum and at a tourist resort in Sousse.

Protests in Tunisia have expanded to major cities such as Beja, Nabeul, Qebily, Bizerte and Sidi Bouzid, after initially breaking out in a number of poor neighborhoods in the capital, and in Manouba, Gafsa and Kasserine.

Hamma Hammami, the leader of the Popular Front opposition party, called on the opposition groups to continue coordination of the protest and promised "to stay in the streets and to increase the intensity of the demonstrations until the retraction of this budget".

Among the arrested were two radical Islamists who had helped storm a police station in Nefza town, he said. "Successive governments have consistently failed to address this issue and to invest in developing the central and southern regions".

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek tells VOA economic issues that prompted the 2011 Arab Spring revolution, which overthrew then President Zein al Abdine Ben Ali, still plague the country.