More than 300 people have been arrested overnight as the Tunisian government deploys the military to help quell ongoing unrest. Opposition activists have accused authorities of an indiscriminate crackdown.
On Wednesday night, a crowd of protesters set fire to the national security building in Thala, near the Algerian border, causing police to flee and the army to be sent in. Tunisia has deployed thousands of troops throughout the country amid the ongoing unrest.
“In coordination with the civil authorities, more than 2,000 army troops have been deployed to protect sovereign institutions and vital facilities,” Defense Ministry spokesman Belhassen al-Waslati told the Turkish Anadolu Agency. “In the first phase [of deployment], 2,000 soldiers were dispatched Tuesday evening to 123 different parts of the country.”
Al-Waslati added that as of Wednesday night this number had risen to more than 2,100.
The protests have been raging across Tunisia since Monday over the new budget plan introduced by the Tunisian government on January 1, which includes a rise in fuel prices and tax hikes. Food prices have also risen by about 8 percent each year since the 2011 revolution, while unemployment stands at over 15 percent.
The demonstrations have often turned violent, and at least one person was reported killed in clashes with security forces on Monday. There have also been reports of crowds targeting Jewish community sites.
The Tunisian government, a coalition of Islamist, secularist and independent factions, have accused criminal and opposition elements of being behind the protests.
“Three hundred and thirty people involved in acts of sabotage and robbery were arrested last night,” Reuters quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani as saying.
“What is happening is crime, not protests. They steal, intimidate people and threaten private and public property.”
But opposition activists have shot back, accusing the government of trying to stamp out legitimate protest.
“It’s getting more and more difficult. The police are arresting protesters in every region. They’re not even interested in the looters and the anarchists. They’re seeking our protesters and accusing them of things that just don’t make sense,” Heythem Guesmi of the activist group Manich Msamah told the Guardian.
The Popular Front opposition group has called for a mass protest to be held in the capital Tunis on Sunday to mark the seventh anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising which toppled President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
Since Ben Ali’s toppling seven years ago, Tunisia has been relatively stable compared to its neighbor, Libya, despite occasional unrest and terrorist attacks. But nine successive governments have failed to get a grip on the economic situation. Meanwhile terrorist attacks such as the massacre in Sousse in 2015 in which 38 people, mostly British holidaymakers, were killed, have damaged the country’s once-flourishing tourism industry.