TUNIS: Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi was to hold talks Saturday with political parties, unions and employers to discuss means to overcome unrest triggered by austerity measures.
The North African country has been shaken by a wave of protests over poverty and unemployment during which hundreds have been arrested before the unrest tapered off.
The demonstrations broke out ahead of Sunday’s seventh anniversary of the toppling of veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a revolt that sparked uprisings across the Arab region.
The trigger of the protests last Sunday was a finance law imposing tax hikes after a year of rising prices.
A man in his 40s died in unrest on Monday night in the northern town of Tebourba though police have insisted they did not kill him.
Interior ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani on Saturday said a total of 803 people suspected of taking part in acts of violence, theft and looting have been arrested this week.
Some 97 security forces and members of civil protection units were also injured, he said. There was no immediate toll for the number of protesters injured in the unrest.
Calm returned to the country on Thursday night and there was “no attack against public or private property” in the night of Friday to Saturday, Chibani said.
AFP correspondents reported one small protest overnight Friday in the central city of Sidi Bouzid — the cradle of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising — and said police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
Tunisia is considered a rare success story of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in the North African country in 2011 and spread across the region, toppling autocrats.
But the authorities have failed to resolve the issues of poverty and unemployment.
Essebsi was expected to discuss a way out of the latest crisis with representatives of political parties, the powerful UGTT trade union and the UTICA employers federation.
In 2015, UTICA — an acronym for the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts — shared a Nobel Prize with the UGTT for their work during Tunisia’s transition toward democracy after the revolution.
Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the revolution that ousted Ben Ali.
This year, the country has seen rising anger after the government adopted the 2018 budget which includes hikes in value-added tax, on mobile phones and real estate as well as in social contributions.