The protesters have made no clear demands in demonstrations, which authorities described as riots, held in some 10 cities around the country.

Protesters stand amidst fumes as they block a street during clashes with security forces amidst a wave of nightly protests in the North African country, in the Ettadhamen city suburb on the northwestwern outskirts of Tunisia's capital Tunis on January 17, 2021.
Protesters stand amidst fumes as they block a street during clashes with security forces amidst a wave of nightly protests in the North African country, in the Ettadhamen city suburb on the northwestwern outskirts of Tunisia's capital Tunis on January 17, 2021. (AFP)

More than 600 people have been arrested and troops have been deployed after a third consecutive night of riots in several Tunisian cities, officials said.

The unrest on Monday came after Tunisia imposed a nationwide lockdown to stem a rise in coronavirus infections last week Thursday — the same day that marked the 10th anniversary of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's fall from power.

Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni said a total of 632 people were arrested, notably "groups of people between the ages of 15, 20 and 25 who burned tyres and bins in order to block movements by the security forces."

Defence ministry spokesman Mohamed Zikri meanwhile said the army has deployed reinforcements in several areas of the country.

Hayouni said that some of those arrested lobbed stones at police and clashed with security forces.

READ MORE: Anger grows in Tunisian town which ignited the ‘Arab Spring’

Protest or 'bored adolescents'?

The protesters made no clear demands in demonstrations – which authorities described as riots – in at least 10 cities around the country.

In the run-down Ettadamen area of the capital Tunis, protesters blocked roads and threw stones at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas.

The army deployed to the cities of Sousse, Bizert, Kasserine and Seliana was only to protect some government buildings, defence ministry official Mohamed Zekri said.

The clashes came a decade to the day since dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled from power.

But in Ettadhamen, there were no political slogans to be heard.

"These aren't protests, it's young people who are coming from nearby neighbourhoods to rob and entertain themselves," said 26-year-old resident Oussama.

"A protest would be during the day, faces visible."

Abdelmoneim, a waiter at a nearby cafe, said those in the street were "bored adolescents," but blamed the violence on the country's post-revolution political class.

"These delinquents are the result of their failure," the 28-year-old said.

Officials say vandals arrested

From nightfall, young people gathered again on the roofs of houses to lob stones and fireworks at police and national guard officers.

Sirens wailed as a police officer with a megaphone shouted "go home!"

Nearby, a young man filling his pockets with rocks told AFP news agency: "These are for our enemies."

Hayouni said on Sunday that dozens of young people, mostly aged between 14 and 17, had been arrested after they took to the streets during previous evenings, to loot and vandalise shopfronts and cars.

Videos circulating on social media showed young people burning tyres, insulting the police and looting shops.

Sousse, usually a magnet for foreign holidaymakers but hit hard by the pandemic, also saw rioting.

Tunisia had been under a night-time curfew even before the recent lockdown, a four-day measure meant to expire on Sunday at midnight.

A decade on from the revolution, many Tunisians are increasingly angered by poor public services and a political class that has repeatedly proved unable to govern coherently.

READ MORE: Ten years since Bouazizi’s fatal act of defiance, where does Tunisia stand?

Economic crisis

GDP shrank by nine percent last year, consumer prices have spiralled and one-third of young people are unemployed.

The key tourism sector, already on its knees after a string of deadly jihadist attacks in 2015, has been dealt a devastating blow by the pandemic.

Tunisia has registered over 177,000 coronavirus cases, including over 5,600 deaths from the disease.

The health crisis and ensuing economic misery have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to seek to leave the country.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies