Heavy clashes expected as Tunisians rally over strict austerity measures


Heavy clashes expected as Tunisians rally over strict austerity measures

Tunisian police have arrested at least 773 people since anti-austerity protests broke out in the nation this week, the interior ministry told state media Friday. Interior Ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani on Saturday said more than 800 people had been arrested on suspicion of engaging in violent acts during the week's protests, including rioting and looting.

While the Interior Ministry Spokesman Khelifa Chibani has said "what is happening is crime, not protests", campaigners accuse the government of an "indiscriminate" crackdown.

"Tunisian security forces must refrain from using excessive force and end their use of intimidation tactics against peaceful demonstrators", the rights group said. There was no immediate toll for the number of protesters injured in the unrest.

Police fired teargas to disperse crowds in Tunis and in Tebourba, a small town nearby where one protestor was killed in Monday, witnesses said.

A number of left-wing activists have been arrested by the authorities in recent days, after officials accused them of fuelling the violence.

Several dozen members of the Popular Front party demonstrated Friday in front of a court in the town of Gafsa after the arrest of several local activists, an AFP correspondent said.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring: the one Arab country to topple a long-serving leader in that year's uprisings without triggering widespread violence or civil war.

Political scientist Hamza Meddeb said there was "very strong social anger" over a "political class increasingly cut off from the population" and because protests had not yet resulted in any concrete improvement.

The announcement comes the day before the seventh anniversary of anti-government protests that led to the ouster of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered the so-called Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations across North Africa and the Middle East. The organization said he died after a police auto 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.