Tunisia deploys army in cities as unrest continues

TUNIS: Tunisian protesters burned down a regional national security headquarters near the Algerian border, prompting authorities to send in troops after police retreated, witnesses said, as unrest over prices and taxes continued nationwide.
Over 300 protesters were arrested overnight and the army was deployed in several cities to help quell violent protests.
In Thala, near the Algerian border, soldiers deployed after crowds torched the region’s national security building, forcing police to retreat from the town, witnesses said.
Tunisia’s unity government has portrayed the unrest as driven by criminal elements, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has accused the opposition of fuelling dissent.
Rejecting that accusation, Tunisia’s main opposition bloc, the Popular Front, called for a major protest in Tunis on Sunday.
Tunisia’s Football Association said it was postponing all weekend matches because of the disturbances.
Anti-government protests have flared in a number of Tunisian cities and towns — including the tourist resort of Sousse, since Monday against price and tax rises imposed to cut a ballooning deficit and satisfy international lenders.
The army has been deployed in several cities, including Sousse, Kebeli and Bizerte, to protect government buildings that have become a target for protesters.
“Three hundred and thirty people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery have been arrested,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said. That brought the total number of detainees since the protests began to around 600.
“What is happening is crime, not protests. They steal, intimidate people and threaten private and public property,” he added.
Many of the protests have been peaceful, however, with demonstrators expressing their anger and frustration over deepening economic hardship.
The 2011 revolt and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which accounts for eight per cent of Tunisia’s economic activity.
Unemployment nationally exceeds 15 per cent, and is much higher in some marginalised regions of the interior. Annual inflation rose to 6.4 per cent in December, the highest rate since July 2014. — Reuters