Tunisia: 600 arrested in anti-austerity protests

Wave of demonstrations sweeps the North African country

Tunisian protesters gesture towards police
(Image credit: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested in Tunisia as a wave of violent demonstrations sweep across the country.

More than 600 anti-government protesters were detained by police on the instructions of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed following three nights of rioting. There are reports the army has also been deployed to protect government buildings.

The immediate cause of the unrest is a new economic policy which will raise the cost of basic goods in order to cut a ballooning deficit and satisfy international lenders.

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The International Monetary Fund, which lent the country $2.9bn (£2.1bn) in 2015, told Tunisia last December it needed to take “urgent action” and “decisive measures” to reduce its deficit, the BBC reports.

However, as with the protests that broke out in Iran after Christmas, longer-term factors behind the demonstrations “include high levels of poverty and youth unemployment, particularly among graduates”, says The Guardian.

The paper says January protests have recurred in Tunisia since the death of street-seller Mohamed Bouazizi in 2011 provoked a nationwide wave of anger that led to the overthrow of authoritarian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and kick-started the Arab Spring.

Since those heady days, and after authoritarian rule returned to many Arab countries, Tunisia has stood out as the one success story. But while it has been held up as a beacon of democracy in the Arab world, the past seven years have not been easy for the North African country.

It has had had nine different governments, economic productivity remains stubbornly low and unemployment has forced many young Tunisians abroad, fuelling the migrant crisis. It has also produced a disproportionate number of recruits for Islamic State.

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