New protest calls as Tunisia marks uprising anniversary

Riot police clash with demonstrators during anti-government protests in Tebourba south of Tunis Tunisia Wednesday Jan. 10 2018. | FILE

Tunisian police have arrested more than 770 people since anti-austerity protests broke out this week in the North African country, according to state media and the United Nations human rights office.

Tunisian authorities said on Friday the number of people detained in the wave of violent protests had risen to almost 800, after a provincial town was hit by a night of unrest over the austerity measures.

Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi told reporters that the monthly aid to needy families would rise from 50 euros to 70 euros. In total, the social reforms package, which requires parliamentary approval, will amount to an increase of 170 million dinars (€56 million/$69 million).

The announcement came after two hours of crisis talks at the presidential palace that included President Essebsi, political parties and trade unionists.

"We have nothing left to eat", said an older woman.

Tunisians are calling for peaceful protests on the anniversary to tell the country's new leaders that they have failed to fix problems that stirred the revolution.

He urged the government to not detain protesters arbitrarily.

One protester has been killed, more than 100 police officers were injured and over 800 people arrested, according to the interior ministry.

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After almost a week of at times violent protests, police used tear gas against dozens of young protesters in the Ettadamen district of Tunis in renewed demonstrations over a tax hike.

The revolution was sparked by the death of a fruit and vegetable seller in the central town of Sidi Bouzid who set himself afire December 10, 2010, in apparent anger and despair over mistreatment by police who upset his cart. The event triggered demonstrations across the country, which eventually spread to others in the Arab world.

The protesters reportedly responded to the call of the coalition of activist groups to rally against the austerity measures the government had taken to reduce the budget deficit.

Tunisia hiked prices for fuel and some consumer goods, while taxes on items such as cars, phone calls, internet and hotel accommodation have also increased. Some blocked roads and attacked police stations, municipal depots, stores and banks.

Protesters who tried to storm a government building in Tunis were pushed back by security forces.

An anti-austerity youth movement - named Fech Nestannow, which translates as "What are we waiting for?" - has sprung up since the start of the year and is seeking to rally opposition to the measures.

Tunisia is widely viewed as the only successful country to transition to democracy as part of the 2011 protests that helped spark revolutions around the Middle East and North Africa.

But authorities have struggled to redress Tunisia's economy, including after deadly jihadist attacks in 2015 dealt a major blow to the key tourism sector. Many people face unemployment, with official figures put the unemployment rate at around 15 percent.

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