Tunisia unrest: Arrests, clashes persist amid price rises
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian police arrested 328 people and fired tear gas as protesters hurled rocks and burned tires during further nationwide demonstrations over price rises. European governments warned travelers about the multi-day outbreak of unrest in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
The protests late Wednesday in multiple towns appeared somewhat less violent than previous nights, as heavy security was deployed at key sites to deter rioters.
But the country remains tense. And more demonstrations are planned in the coming days to mark seven years since the ouster of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, 2011.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said Thursday that the 328 arrested overnight are accused of destroying property, looting and theft. That’s in addition to more than 200 arrested earlier this week.
Speaking on Mosaique radio, he said 21 officers were injured in the latest skirmishes. He didn’t give estimates of the number of protesters that were hurt.
Clashes notably erupted in working class neighborhoods on the outskirts of the capital, Tunis. Groups of young people, some masked, threw rocks at a police station and were met by volleys of tear gas, and had running scuffles through nearby streets, witnesses said.
In a Tunis suburb, citizens intervened to help police hold off rioters armed with knives and firebombs trying to attack a train.
In the central city of Kasserine, the army intervened after protesters set fire to a police station. Protesters blocked roads with flaming tires in several regions, from the western region of Sousse to Beja in the north, according to media reports.
Tebourba, where one protester died earlier this week, saw new clashes Wednesday as dozens of people protested to demand the release of people arrested earlier in the week.
After the death of the protester, unrest spread, and at least two dozen towns have been affected.
While Tunisia set an example for the region by building a democracy against the odds, many Tunisians, especially in working class provincial towns, now fear the government is slipping back into authoritarian ways.
They also feel neglected and angry over price rises the government says are necessary to improve the long-struggling economy and qualify for foreign aid.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Thursday accused political opponents and corrupt barons of stoking the unrest.
“I want to calm down Tunisians. The state is still standing, and will resist,” he said. While he said he respects the right to peaceful protest, he promised investigations into violent acts.
The Interior Ministry warned in a statement for viewers to beware of “trumped-up” videos and “fake information” circulating on social media aimed at seeding panic.
Marches are planned across the country for Sunday to call on the parliament to revise the price rises and mark the so-called Jasmine Revolution, which unleashed uprisings from Egypt to Syria.
Britain, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Belgium this week have warned travelers about the risks of riots with more demonstrations planned around the weekend Arab Spring anniversary.
Associated Press writers around Europe contributed to this report.