News ID: 208059
Published: 0348 GMT January 14, 2018

New protests as Tunisia marks uprising anniversary

New protests as Tunisia marks uprising anniversary

Tunisians on Sunday marked seven years since the uprising that launched the Arab Spring, with more protests after days of unrest over persisting poverty and unemployment.

The North African country is seen as having had a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power. But seven years later, anger has risen over new austerity measures after a year of rising prices, with protests again chanting the 2011 slogans of "Work, Freedom, Dignity", AFP reported.

On Sunday, hundreds gathered in the capital Tunis, responding to calls to protest from a powerful labor union and several political parties.

Security was tight as protesters poured through checkpoints into the capital's Habib Bourguiba Avenue, which was the epicenter of the 2011 protests.

Demonstrators chanted against "poverty and hunger" as they marched up the avenue, accusing "thieves" of having stolen the country.

A wave of peaceful protests and night-time unrest hit cities and towns across the country this past week, after hikes in value-added tax and social security contributions introduced in early January.

The Interior Ministry says it has arrested more than 800 people suspected of taking part in violence, theft and looting since the start of the unrest.

Protester demands have included a review of the 2018 austerity budget and more efficient measures to fight enduring corruption.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 people gathered outside the offices of the UGTT union.

"The people want the fall of the 2018 budget," some chanted, echoing 2011 calls for the fall of the regime.

"Shame! Prices have risen too much," a demonstrator said.

President Beji Caid Essebsi was to mark the anniversary by attending the opening of a youth center in the working-class Tunis suburb of Ettadhamen, which saw night-time clashes between young protesters and police this week.

Tunisia's 2011 revolt was sparked by the self-immolation of a fruit seller in desperation at police harassment and unemployment. On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, inspiring similar revolts across the region in what became known as the Arab Spring.

Tunisia has been praised for its steps toward democracy in the years since, compared to countries now wracked by war. A new constitution was adopted and legislative and presidential polls held in 2014.

But authorities have struggled to redress Tunisia's economy, including after deadly terrorist attacks in 2015 dealt a major blow to the key tourism sector. Seven years on, youth unemployment is more than 35 percent, according to the International Labour Organization.

On Saturday, Essebsi announced an increase in aid to the needy and improved health care as part of social reforms following the unrest.

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