Over 600 protesters were arrested overnight even as the army were dispatched to several cities to stop violent demonstrations over price hikes, taxes and unemployment.

Tunisians shout slogans during a demonstration against the government and price hikes on January 9, 2018 in Tunis.
Tunisians shout slogans during a demonstration against the government and price hikes on January 9, 2018 in Tunis. (AFP)

Major protests are expected on Friday in Tunisia a day after authorities arrested over 600 protesters and the army was deployed in several Tunisian cities to stop violent demonstrations over prices, taxes and unemployment that have swept the country. 

In Thala town, near the Algerian border, troops were sent in after protesters burned down the national security building forcing police to retreat from the town, witnesses said.

Since starting with one small protest on Sunday - just days before the 7th anniversary of the Arab Spring movement that convulsed North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 - the demonstrations have spread across much of the country resulting in the killing of one person.

The protests spiralled after the government hiked prices of staple goods and introduced new taxes at the start of the year to try to tackle a ballooning deficit and appease foreign lenders.

TRT World's Arabella Munro has more. 

Police detained 328 people on Wednesday for theft, looting, arson and blocking roads, the interior ministry said, after arresting more than 280 people over the previous two days.

The latest unrest saw a provincial police station torched, Molotov cocktails hurled at police and tear gas fired, but ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said the "violence" was less intense than in previous days.

TRT World spoke to Tunis-based blogger and activist Aye Chebbi, who said the protests are "organic and spontaneous" and that arresting demonstrators may not solve the problem.

"What happened is violence that we cannot accept. The state will remain steadfast," Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said in a video broadcast by local radio after he visited towns hit by clashes.

While Tunisia is widely seen as the only democratic success story among the Arab Spring nations, it has also had nine governments since then, none of which have been able to deal with growing economic problems.

TRT World spoke to Tunisian politician Ahmed Bouazzi, who said the government faces a tough situation.

The 2011 uprising and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged foreign investment and tourism, which accounts for 8 percent of Tunisia's economic activity.

Chahed on Wednesday accused the opposition of fuelling dissent by calling for more protests.

Tunisian protestors throw stones towards security forces in Tunis' Djebel Lahmer district early on January 10, 2018 after price hikes ignited protests in the north African country.
Tunisian protestors throw stones towards security forces in Tunis' Djebel Lahmer district early on January 10, 2018 after price hikes ignited protests in the north African country. (AFP)

Jewish school attacked

The previous day, petrol bombs were hurled at a Jewish school on the southern tourist island of Djerba, home to an ancient Jewish community.

There were no protests in Djerba itself, but locals said unknown assailants had exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence as police were busy elsewhere.

"Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of (the)... school," the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, said.

Djerba is home to Africa's oldest synagogue, which was hit by al Qaeda-linked militants in 2002 in a truck bomb attack that killed 21 people including Western tourists.

Among the hundreds arrested on Tuesday were two radicals who had helped storm a police station in Nefza town, the interior ministry spokesman said. In Tunis, a crowd stormed a Carrefour market.

Tunisian protesters gesture towards security forces during clashes in the town of Tebourba on January 9, 2018.
Tunisian protesters gesture towards security forces during clashes in the town of Tebourba on January 9, 2018. (AFP)

Growing anger

The protests have drawn in hundreds in each town where they have taken place, though they have been smaller than previous waves of demonstrations since 2011.

But public anger has been building since January 1, when the government raised the price of petrol and other items and hiked social security contributions and taxes on cars, phone calls, internet usage and hotel accommodation.

The Ennahda party, which governs in a coalition with secularists, called for the minimum monthly wage to be hiked to 357 dinars ($143) and for more aid for poor families, echoing calls by labour unions.

Tunisian protesters clash with security forces in the town of Tebourba on January 9, 2018, following the funeral of a man who was killed the previous day in a demonstration over rising costs and government austerity.
Tunisian protesters clash with security forces in the town of Tebourba on January 9, 2018, following the funeral of a man who was killed the previous day in a demonstration over rising costs and government austerity. (AFP)

Strained public coffers? 

There was no immediate response from the government.

But in a sign that the public coffers are strained, Taoufik Rajhi, minister of economic reforms, told parliament there was no extra money for the health sector, infrastructure or education.

At 15 percent of economic output, the state's wage bill is one of the highest per capita in the world, and parliament on Tuesday passed a law to offer voluntary redundancy to public service workers as part of plans to trim it to 12.5 percent by 2020.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies