TUNISIA: 770 arrested over protests against plans to raise taxes, basic goods

Protesters shout slogans during protests against rising prices and tax increases in Tunis Tunisia Jan 12 2018. Reuters

Essebsi was expected to discuss a way out of the latest crisis with representatives of political parties, the powerful UGTT trade union and the UTICA employers federation.

Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the revolution that ousted Ben Ali.

But protest organisers called for new gatherings on Friday.

One protestor was killed and dozens of government headquarters and institutions were set on fire. The event triggered demonstrations across the country, which eventually spread to others in the Arab world.

Tunisia plans to increase support for the poor, a government source said Saturday after anger over price and tax increases led to protests and hundreds of arrests.

Protests were held over rising prices of fuels, mobile phone fees, cosmetics and internet tariffs, and the new finance law which increases certain taxes. There was no immediate toll for the number of protesters injured in the unrest, however a man in his 40s died during protests on Monday night in the northern town of Tebourba. The organization said he died after a police vehicle ran him over twice but Tunisia's Ministry of Interior said that he had suffocated to death from tear gas because he had a chronic respiratory condition.

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Interior Ministry spokesperson Khlifa Chibani said on Friday on Mosaique FM radio that 778 people have been arrested nationwide in the unrest, including 16 religious extremists. "What happened had nothing to do with democracy and protests against price hikes".

Incidents of vandalism dropped sharply on Thursday night, Chibani added.

The leader of Tunisia's main opposition party Popular Front, Hamma Hammami, said they would step up protests until the government changed its "unjust" 2018 budget.

The International Monetary Fund agreed in 2016 to a four-year loan program worth about $2.8 billion but payments are tied to the Tunisian government carrying out economic and social reforms.

The 2011 uprising and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which accounts for 8 percent of Tunisia's economic activity. Many people face unemployment, with official figures put the unemployment rate at around 15 percent.

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