Protests hit Tunisia for 3rd night as PM warns of clampdown

Police fired teargas to disperse crowds in Tunis and in Tebourba, a small town nearby where one protestor was killed in Monday, witnesses said.

Tunisian protesters throw stones towards security forces in Tunis' Djebel Lahmer district early on 10 January, 2018 after price hikes ignited protests in the North African country. Picture: AFP

TUNIS - Tunisian demonstrators defied the threat of a security clampdown on Wednesday as they spilled onto the streets of the capital and at least four other towns for a third night of violent protest fuelled by economic hardship.

Police fired teargas to disperse crowds in Tunis and in Tebourba, a small town nearby where one protester was killed on Monday, witnesses said.

Since starting with one small protest on Sunday - just days before the 7th anniversary of the Arab Spring movement that convulsed North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 - the demonstrations have spread across much of the country.

They spiralled after the government hiked prices of staple goods and introduced new taxes at the start of the year to try to tackle a ballooning deficit and appease foreign lenders.

Late on Tuesday, clashes erupted in more than 20 towns, as protesters attacked police stations and government buildings and torched cars, also hurling petrol bombs at a Jewish school on the southern tourist island of Djerba.

About 50 policemen were wounded in that violence and 237 people were arrested, including two Islamists, said interior ministry spokesperson Khelifa Chibani.

“What happened is violence that we cannot accept. The state will remain steadfast,” Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said in a video broadcast by local radio after he visited towns hit by clashes.

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

The 2011 uprising and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which accounts for 8 percent of Tunisia’s economic activity.

Chahed on Wednesday accused the opposition of fuelling dissent by calling for more protests.