TUNIS - Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed sought to calm anti-austerity protesters on Tuesday with promises of an end to economic hardship, a day after one demonstrator was killed in clashes with police on the previous day.
On Monday, protests erupted in more than 10 towns across Tunisia against price and tax increases imposed by the government to reduce a ballooning deficit and an economic crisis. One protestor was killed in Tebourba, a town 40 km (25 miles) west of Tunis.
Khelifa Chibani, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said 44 people had been arrested for carrying weapons such as knives, setting government buildings on fire and looting shops.
PM Chahed told reporters that while demonstrations were acceptable, violence was not.
“People have to understand that the situation is extraordinary and their country is have difficulties but we believe that 2018 will be the last difficult year for the Tunisians,” Chahed said.
Anger has been building up since the government said that, from Jan. 1, it would increase the price of gasoil, some goods, and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items, part of austerity measures agreed with its foreign lenders.
“What happened had nothing to do with democracy and protests against price hikes...Yesterday protesters burned down two police stations, they looted shops, banks and damaged property in many cities,” spokesman Chibani said.
The protests are much smaller compared to previous turmoil seen in Tunisia since the overthrow of autocrat ruler Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
But previous confrontations between government, labour unions, Islamists and secular forces had also started small before escalating.
Tunisia’s economy has been in crisis since a 2011 uprising unseated the government and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged tourism, which comprises 8 percent of gross domestic product.