Tunisia: 778 arrested for protesting against austerity measures

Security forces in an armored vehicle patrol the district of Intilaka north of Tunis Tunisia Thursday Jan. 11 2018

He said Thursday night's protests were "limited", suggesting the situation was calming down.

Last year, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund agreed a four-year loan program worth about $2.8 billion with Tunisia, tied to economic reforms.

"We had hoped that our lives would become better, that we get jobs and housing, but everything has turned for the worse", said Bashir Hussein, one of the disgruntled graduates. "I don't have hopes anymore that things will improve", Hussein said.

"The perpetrators want to sow dissension between Jewish and Muslim communities living in harmony on the island for many years", Trabelsi said.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 700 people have so far been detained for clashing with police and inciting "riots". Among the arrested were two radical Islamists who had helped storm a police station in Nefza town, he said.

In the southwestern city of Gafsa, meanwhile, dozens of supporters of the Popular Front (a parliamentary coalition that holds 15 of the assembly's 217 seats) demonstrated against the arrest of three leftist opposition activists.

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Almost a week of sometimes violent protests across the country followed the announcement of austerity measures in this year's budget, which took effect on January 1. But the economy has struggled and people are angry over the government's latest austerity measures.

Public anger has been building since January 1, when the government raised the price of gas and other items and hiked social security contributions and taxes on cars, phone calls, internet usage and hotel accommodation.

Tunisia appears to have little scope to back away austerity.

Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the revolution that ousted long-time dictator Ben Ali.

While Tunisia is widely seen as the only democratic success story among "Arab Spring" nations, it has also had nine governments since the overthrow of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, none of which have been able to deal with growing economic problems.

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