The protest in Tunisia that began peacefully last week, over introduction of austerity measures in 2018 budget by government, escalated on Monday. By Wednesday night, it has spread to at least 10 different areas, including the capital, Tunis, and become violent. About 600 people have been arrested since the protest began.
The protesters are demonstrating against price increases that have affecting basic goods. The police have been making efforts to bring the situation under control. In addition, the army has deployed personnel to towns across the country to protect government buildings which have become targets of the protesters.
Youssef Chahed, the country’s Prime Minister, condemned what he said were acts of “vandalism” by the protesters. He said they were trying to weaken the state. Khelifa Chiban, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that more than 300 protesters were arrested Wednesday night alone.
Tunisian government has accused the demonstrators of setting fire on police cars and attacking officials, while some attempted to take over shopping malls and stores, and others blocked roads.
Defence Ministry said the army was now protecting banks, post offices and other government buildings in main cities. The army was also forced to enter the town of Thala, close to the Algerian border, Wednesday night, after the police were forced to retreat due to protesters burning national security offices.
According local news agency, Tass, not all the protests were violent. Tunisian students’ union organized a sit-in at the theatre in Tunis, the country’s capital, before marching towards the offices of the interior ministry.
Opposition groups described the 2018 budget as “unfair”. The protest was sparked by government announcement of increase in value-added tax and social contributions in the budget. Also included in the new financial year were price hikes on some goods and increased taxes on imports.
The demonstrators are demanding that government drop the 2018 budget. They also want to see more welfare payments for struggling families in the country.
Tunisian government provision of austerity measures in 2018 budget could be step towards overhauling the economy. The economy has been under pressure since the 2011 revolution, which forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country after more than 20 years in power. The revolution was ignited by high unemployment rates and concerns about corruption in government.
After seven years of the revolution, significantly not much has changed in governance and the economy of Tunisia. The same problems remain. According to reports, Tunisia has had nine governments after the revolution. A number of terrorist attacks have damaged the country’s tourism industry and foreign investment opportunities.
International Monetary Fund, IMF, in December 2017, recommended to Tunisia government the need to take “urgent action” and “decisive measures” to reduce deficit in the economy. In 2015, IMF, granted Tunisia $2.9bn loan.
Prime Minister Chahed said, Tuesday, Tunisians should look forward to better times ahead. His words: “People have to understand that the situation is extraordinary and their country is having difficulties, but we believe that 2018 will be the last difficult year for the Tunisians”.