By Sana Elouazi
Rabat – Tunisian authorities announced on Friday the arrest of 773 people for their involvement in acts of “vandalism, looting and theft” since the outbreak of protests last Monday following new austerity measures resulting from the 2018 Finance bill, which is expected to increase the cost of living.
The spokesman for the Tunisian interior ministry Khalifa Chibani told local media outlets that the detainees were placed in police custody on the orders of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Among those arrested in several parts of the country, Chibani counted 16 takfirists, alleged to be involved in vandalism and incitement. Two of them appeared to be “dangerous” and were detained after consultations with the prosecution.
“They are involved in the rampage in Nefza, a locality in southern Tunisia, a police station, a municipality and a recipe of finances,” Chibani told the ShemsFM radio.
“These acts have nothing to do with peaceful demonstrations. They are planned, not spontaneous and benefit only terrorism and contraband. We have reliable information that terrorist groups were trying to take advantage of the situation to introduce weapons, ” Chibani added.
He pointed out that the age of more than 31.5 percent of people arrested varies between 15 and 20 years and more than 50 percent of them are between 20 and 30 years old. Only one percent are over 40 years old.
The official pointed out that 97 security agents were injured and some 88 police vehicles were damaged during the clashes with protesters.
A Tunisian citizen told Reuter that police fired tear gas in two districts of the capital on Tuesday and fired gas at a crowd storming a supermarket, but no casualties were reported.
According to the state news agency TAP, one protester was killed on Monday after clashes broke out in Tebourba, a town 40 km (25 miles) west of Tunis.
Since the government announced that it would increase the price of gas, oil, cars, phone and internet services, as well as hotel accommodation and other items in the 2018 budget, many protests erupted across the country last week.
The 2018 budget also raises customs duties on scores of imported goods, such as cosmetics and agricultural products.
Protesters took to the street to demand a revision of the 2018 finance bill as well as a better social coverage for needy families and a tangible plan to fight corruption.