Riots over Tunisia’s economy flared overnight in towns around the country, leaving one dead and posing an immediate challenge to the new prime minister and the country’s path to democracy.
Crowds protested late Friday outside the government finance buildings in the low-income neighborhood of Ettaddamon over new taxes levied by the outgoing government described as necessary to fill yawning holes in the country’s budget.
The tax hikes were hastily suspended by the outgoing prime minister, but the decision failed to calm angry crowds and casts doubt on future government efforts to rein in spending and raise revenues.
Police reported that local criminals took advantage and began looting stores and clashing with authorities. They were dispersed with tear gas, Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui said Saturday. Nearly 50 people were arrested in clashes in suburbs of Tunis, Aroui said.
In another clash, one young protester was killed and a police officer was injured in the town of Bouchebka on the Algerian border, Aroui said. He said an investigation is under way into what happened.
Since Tunisia overthrew its authoritarian president in 2011 and set off revolutions around the Arab world, this small Mediterranean country’s economy has suffered, fueling social unrest. Unemployment hovers at 17%.