More than 200 people were arrested and dozens were injured on Tuesday as a wave of demonstrations continues to shake several cities in Tunisia following new austerity measures resulting from the 2018 Finance bill, which is expected to increase the cost of living. The head of the local Jewish community said that attackers had exploited the breakdown in security to set the buildings on fire.
Violent demonstrations against tax increases and price rises in Tunisia have led to a government promise that 2018 will be the last tough year for the North African country.
Six years since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Ben Ali, the former president, Tunisia has been held up as a model by avoiding the violence that affected other nations after their Arab Spring revolts.
"Some 330 people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery was arrested last night", said the interior ministry spokesman, Khelifa Chibani, bringing the number of detainees since the protests began about 600.
The army has been deployed in several cities, including Sousse, Kebeli and Bizerte, to protect government buildings that have become a target for protesters.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called for calm, saying the economy would improve this year.
Among those arrested were two men who orchestrated the storming of a police station in the town of Nefza. Two major militant attacks in 2015 also greatly damaged the country's tourism industry, which made up eight percent of gross domestic product.
"Stuck between the International Monetary Fund and a restive population, the government can not simply try to please both and will need to come up with a new economic policy and narrative to break out of this impasse", said Riccardo Fabiani, senior North Africa analyst with Eurasia Group in London. 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 January 14, 2011.
No one group is controlling these protests, but many would exploit them for political gain, he added.
In the central town of Sidi Bouzid, epicentre of the 2011 uprising that unseated dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, rocks and tyres blocked the roads, another AFP correspondent said. They also want to see better welfare for Tunisia's struggling families.
Police took to the streets in 20 towns and cities to try and control the violence on Tuesday night, and molotov cocktails were thrown at a Jewish school on the tourist island of Djerba.
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