A few hundred people demonstrated Friday calm against price rises in Tunisia, after several days of clashes fueled by a social grump against the austerity budget, near the seventh anniversary of the revolution.
Friday night was calm after night clashes in recent days in several cities between young people and police. These troubles are fueled by persistent unemployment despite growth, and tax increases nibbling at a purchasing power already experienced by significant inflation.
Traditional social mobilization on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the fall of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011, ousted by a revolution calling for work and dignity, has been particularly explosive this year, resulting mainly in riots.
But Friday, about 200 demonstrators marched in the rain in the center of Tunis, and launched a “yellow card” to the government at the call of the movement “Fech Nestannew” (“What is expected”), initiator at the beginning of the year of the protest against rising prices.
In the city of Sfax (center), nearly 200 people demonstrated under surveillance, holding placards reading “the money of the people is in the palaces, and the children of the people in the prisons”, has found a correspondent of AFP.
Nearly 780 people have been arrested since Monday, the Interior Ministry said, while Amnesty International has called the police for restraint.
According to ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani, 151 people involved in violence were arrested Thursday, bringing the total arrests to 778 in five days.
– ‘Limited hits’ –
“We believe that a dialogue is still possible and reforms are still possible.The yellow card is to say + attention +: It is time today to tackle the real problems: the economic crisis, the high cost of life, etc … These same claims we have been dragging for years, “told AFP Henda Chennaoui, a Fech Nestannew manager.
The government, which has communicated little in recent days, swept these claims in a statement on Friday.
“There are no demonstrations but thugs, who are between 17 and 21 years so they are not affected by the impact of the finance law,” said the spokesman of Prime Minister Mofdi Mseddi. “It is a finance law that maintains direct subsidies to the poor and middle population and reinforces employment policies for young graduates and the unemployed”.
President Béji Caïd Essebsi and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed discussed on Friday “steps that will be taken in the coming days to improve purchasing power,” said the presidency on its Facebook site.
For the political scientist Hamza Meddeb, the particularly explosive mobilization is explained by a “very strong social anger”, several waves of protest resulting in no concrete improvement, and a “political class increasingly cut off from the population”.
– UN ‘worried’ –
Amnesty called on security forces to “not use excessive force” and “stop their intimidation of peaceful protesters”.
A protester died in unclear circumstances during the clashes on Monday night in Tebourba, 30 km from Tunis.
Reporters Without Borders has condemned pressure on journalists after the arrest of a French correspondent and a Tunisian reporter covering the rallies.
For its part, the UN, through its human rights commission, said it was “worried” about the scale of the arrests, calling on the authorities to “ensure that protesters can demonstrate peacefully” as the 7th anniversary of the revolution approaches.
Several organizations, including the left-wing Popular Front coalition and the powerful UGTT trade union center, called for rally on Sunday.
Many Tunisians believe they have won freedom but lost in standard of living since the fall of Ben Ali.
The state, which has responded to the social demands of the post-revolution period by massive hiring in the civil service, finds itself in financial difficulties after several years of economic slump, particularly due to the fall of tourism after a series of attacks in 2015.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Tunisia in 2016 credits of 2.4 billion euros over four years, provided it reduces its budget and trade deficits.
Adopted at the end of last year, the 2018 budget increases notably VAT, taxes on telephony or real estate and some import duties, and introduces a social contribution of solidarity on profits and wages to bail out social funds.

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