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Protests Across Tunisia Over Price Hikes, Worsening Economic Hardships

A demonstrating graduate shouts slogans during protests against rising prices and tax increases, in Tunis on Tuesday.
Zoubeir Souissi
A demonstrating graduate shouts slogans during protests against rising prices and tax increases, in Tunis on Tuesday.

Protesters took to the streets for the third night Wednesday in towns and cities across Tunisia, demonstrating against recently imposed price hikes on common goods.

At least one person has died and authorities said 330 people were arrested overnight, Reuters reports. Hundreds more were arrested earlier in the week, with about 600 now in custody in total.

The military deployed to multiple cities as some people blocked roads, threw stones and set fires.

Clashes between demonstrators and security forces have taken place in at least 20 cities and towns, The Guardian reports. Khalifa Chibani, spokesman for Tunisia's interior ministry, told Tunisia's TAP news agency that at least 58 members of the security forces have been injured and 57 police vehicles damaged, according to The Associated Press. He said people who were arrested had taken part in theft, looting and arson.

Police have fired tear gas to disperse crowds in the capital Tunis and nearby town Tebourba.

A small protest began Sunday but escalated on Monday after one protester was killed in Tebourba. Police said they did not kill him and said he had a respiratory condition, according to The Guardian.

At the beginning of January, the government raised prices on staple goods in an effort to cut the country's deficit. Gasoline prices, retirement plan contributions, and taxes on "cars, phone calls, internet usage and hotel accommodation" have all gone up, Reuters says.

"The protests are over the cost of living," a demonstrator in Tunis told the BBC. "Prices of medicine have increased. Everything has, and salaries have not. I don't think this is the right time for price hikes."

The International Monetary Fund gave Tunisia a loan worth $2.9 billion in 2015. The organization frequently imposes conditions on loans to recipient countries, such as lowering the budget deficit.

Tunisia was the starting place of the Arab Spring of 2011 and is considered the only relative democratic success story of the movement. Large protests that year forced the ouster of longtime dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

But the country has had nine governments in the seven years since, while economic problems have continued. A report in 2016 accused Tunisia of turning back on human rights as well. Amnesty International said evidence showed torture and inmate deaths occurring inside the country's prisons.

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James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.