Arrests in Tunisia near 800 amid protests

Tunisia president meets unions after unrest

Arrests in Tunisia near 800 amid protests

One person has died and more than 200 people have been arrested in two nights of widespread and violent protests across Tunisia, driven by anger over steep price rises resulting from austerity measures.

So far, one person has died and more than 200 people have been arrested as protests continue to expand to small towns after activists and politicians denounced increases in Value-Added Tax and the introduction of social contributions at the start of the year as a tough new budget was implemented.

More than 770 people have been arrested in Tunisia since protests against the government's austerity measures erupted last Sunday.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khlifa Chibani said on Friday on Mosaique FM radio that 778 people have been arrested nationwide in the unrest, including 16 religious extremists. The UN said it was concerned about the number of arrests during the protests.

"The people want the Finance Act repealed" and "The people are fed up with the new Trabelsi", they shouted, referring to the graft-tainted in-laws of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In a statement to the press on Friday, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the government to stop using "excessive force".

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Friday's demonstrations came ahead of the seventh anniversary of Ben Ali's ouster on January 14, 2011. The government has vowed not to back down on the austerity measures, taken to satisfy foreign lenders.

"The people's money is in the palaces, and the children of the people are in the prisons", read one placard.

Rights group Amnesty International accused the authorities of using "increasingly heavy-handed methods to disperse rallies and subsequently arrest protesters" during the unrest.

But Tunisia's economy has struggled since the revolution, with growth remaining slow.

Unrest was also reported in the southern city of Gafsa, in Kasserine in central Tunisia and in Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

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