Over 300 protesters were arrested on Wednesday night and the army was deployed in several Tunisian cities in violent demonstrations over prices, taxes and unemployment that have swept the country. In Thala, near the Algerian border, troops were sent in after protesters burned down the national security building forcing police to retreat from the town, witnesses told Reuters.
Violent anti-government protests have raged in other towns in the North African country since Monday, among them the tourist resort of Sousse, against price and tax rises imposed by government to cut a ballooning deficit and satisfy international lenders.
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. "Three hundred and thirty people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery were arrested last night," Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani said bringing the number of detainees since the protests began to around 600, as reported by Reuters. The army was also deployed in several other cities, including Sousse, Kebeli and Bizerte to protect government buildings that have become a target for protesters.
Uprisings in 2011 and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which account for eight percent of Tunisia's economic activity.Protests are common in the North African state in the month of January, when Tunisians mark the anniversary of the 2011 revolt. The country has been hailed for its relatively smooth democratic transition but seven years after the revolution tensions over economic grievances are high.
Tunisia has seen several days of demonstrations after activists and politicians denounced hikes in value-added tax and social contributions introduced at the start of the year as a tough new budget was implemented.
Tunisia's economy has struggled since the revolution, with growth remaining slow. January 2016 saw the biggest wave of public discontent since the uprising as the death of an unemployed protester in Kasserine sparked days of unrest.
In December, unemployed protesters and activists marched through the streets of Sidi Bouzid, angry over the lack of jobs and opportunities that continue to plague residents. The revolution in Tunisia began in the town in December 2010 after street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and later died in a protest over unemployment and police harassment that spiraled into Ben Ali's overthrow.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Wednesday accused the opposition of fueling dissent by calling for more protests.
On Tuesday, petrol bombs were hurled at a Jewish school on the southern tourist island of Djerba, home to an ancient Jewish community.