New clashes erupted Wednesday night between protesters and police in several cities of Tunisia, the third day of a protest fueled by austerity measures.
Since Monday social unrest has been recorded in the country, seven years after the beginning of the Arab Spring with a revolution that demanded work and dignity and had brought down the dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Already last week, sporadic peaceful protests denounced rising prices and an austerity budget providing for, among other things, tax increases.
In Siliana (north-west), young people threw stones and molotov cocktails at security agents on Wednesday night and tried to break into a court in the center of the city. Police fired back with tear gas.
Scuffles have again taken place in Kasserine, in the poor center of the country where young people under the age of 20 are trying to block roads with burning tires and throw stones at security agents.
Dozens of protesters also took to the streets in Tebourba, 30 km west of Tunis where was buried on Tuesday the man who died in clashes on Monday night. Police fired back with massive tear gas, a resident said.
According to local media, similar scenes took place in neighborhoods near Tunis.
During a visit to el-Battan near Tebourba on Wednesday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed condemned the acts of “vandalism” which, according to him, “serve the interests of corruption networks to weaken the state”. He pointed to the Popular Front, a leftist party opposed to the budget.
In the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, 49 policemen were wounded, 237 people arrested and pounds were attacked during the unrest, said the Interior Ministry accusing thugs of being paid by political leaders.
No record of possible injuries among the protesters could be obtained from the authorities.
– ‘Nothing to lose’ –
“There are acts of looting and theft, but also a political message from a section of the population that has nothing to lose,” said political scientist Selim Kharrat, pointing out that many symbols of State were targeted.
The army has been deployed around banks, post offices and other sensitive government buildings in major cities across the country, according to the Ministry of Defense.
For political scientist Olfa Lamloum, “the new finance law is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
“Young people are disappointed with the revolution, especially because of the high cost of living,” she says, stressing “the deepening of social inequalities highlighted by official statistics” – rising poverty rate, unemployment and illiteracy among young people in particular.
The nocturnal protests were peppered with violence. A supermarket in the southern suburbs of Tunis was looted Tuesday by young people who stole money and goods, according to Mohamed Baccouche, deputy operating director of the French distribution group Carrefour.
If Tunisia, the only country that survived the Arab Spring, has managed to advance its democratic transition, it remains stuck in the economic and social sluggishness.
– Price increase –
After several years of economic slump and massive hiring in the civil service, the country faces significant financial difficulties. Inflation has exceeded 6% by the end of 2017 while debt and the trade deficit are reaching worrying levels.
In 2016, Tunis obtained a new credit line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), amounting to 2.4 billion euros over four years, in exchange for a program to reduce deficits.
he activists of the “Fech Nestannew” campaign (launched in the beginning of the year against price rises) called for a mass demonstration on Friday.
They demand a revision of the finance law, which has increased VAT and created various other taxes, as well as better social security for families in difficulty and a more effective fight against corruption.
In a statement, the UGTT union called for a rally on Sunday in front of its headquarters in Tunis to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the 2011 revolution.