Tunisia deploys army as violent protests intensify

More than 200 people have been arrested across the country.

Protests that began in the southeastern city of Sennar on Saturday quickly spread, reaching the capital Khartoum and many towns throughout the south.

Tunisian authorities said Friday the number of people detained in a wave of violent protests had risen to almost 800, as fresh unrest over austerity measures hit a provincial town overnight. Sixteen "Islamist extremists" were among those detained, he said.

The United Nations called on the government not to detain people arbitrarily.

Hundreds of people, many of them very young, also demonstrated in Regueb, in the impoverished central part of the country, said an AFP correspondent.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed visited one of the affected areas, where he criticized the main opposition party backing the protests - the Popular Front - and said criminal networks were exploiting the unrest, according to the CNN.

The 2018 budget includes price and tax increases effective from Jan 1.

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Anger has been building up since the government said that, from January 1, it would increase the price of gasoline, some goods, and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items, part of austerity measures agreed with its foreign lenders. Gasoline prices, retirement plan contributions, and taxes on "cars, phone calls, internet usage and hotel accommodation" have all gone up, Reuters says.

After the movement, however, nine administrations during the last seven years in Tunisia have failed to mitigate the plaguing high unemployment rates and economic distress of the common man.

Tunisia is often seen as having had a relatively smooth transition since the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The economy worsened since a vital tourism sector was almost wiped out by a wave of deadly militant attacks in 2015, and has yet to recover despite improved security.

Since Ben Ali's ouster, Tunisia has been grappling with political instability and militant attacks that have driven away investors and tourists.

The Tunisian government has accused political opponents of stoking the unrest and defended the unpopular price rises as essential to improving the economy.

The International Monetary Fund gave Tunisia a loan worth $2.9 billion in 2015.

The anti-austerity demonstrators are demanding the government drop the 2018 budget, which opposition groups describe as "unfair".

  • Michelle Webb