Tunisia considers aid for poor as president hosts emergency talks on anti-austerity protests

Tunisia considers aid for poor as president hosts emergency talks on anti-austerity protestsThe Tunisian government may increase aid for poor families in a bid to defuse tensions following anti-austerity protests that saw hundreds arrested and left at least one man dead.    Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia''s president,  hosted emergency talks with trade unions, employers associations, and political parties on Saturday.  "We discussed the general situation in the country and the reforms, especially socio-economic, that must be adopted to overcome the current problems," Wided Bouchamaoui, the head of the UTICA employers association, told reporters after the meeting.  Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) attends a meeting with political parties, unions and employers following unrest triggered by austerity measures Credit: FETHI BELAID/AFP Noureddine Taboubi, the secretary general of UGTT, the country's main trade union, said no specific moves had been agreed but that measures "must be adopted" to aid needy families and improve the social safety net. A Tunisian government source told Reuters that a package of measures would include extra aid to poor families and people in need, but did not give further detail.  Peaceful protests broke out across Tunisia after the government adopted a new budget that raised taxes and pushed up the cost of living on January 1. Demonstrations escalated on Monday night as youths burned tires to block streets and clashed with security forces.  The unrest largely tailed off after the military was deployed on the streets of several cities on Thursday, but tensions remain high. Police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators at a small protest in the central city of Sidi Bouzid overnight on Friday. Khlifa Chibani, a spokesman for the Interior ministry, said on Saturday a total of 803 people suspected of taking part in acts of violence, theft and looting have been arrested since last Sunday.  Police intervene during a protest in Tunis on January 12, 2018 Credit: Anadolu He said 97 policemen and members of the security forces had been injured over the week. It is unclear how many protesters have been injured. A man in his 40s died in disputed circumstances during unrest in the northern town of Tebourba on on Monday night. The unrest comes ahead of Sunday's seventh anniversary of the revolution that toppled the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, an event that sparked similar uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. While the other revolutions have descended into violence or given way to authoritarianism, Tunisia is widely seen as a success story of the Arab Spring.  Its democracy remains for the most part intact and a secular party currently leads the government in coalition with a moderate Islamist group.  But frustration has grown among many Tunisians over economic stagnation and unemployment.  Tunisia agreed to take decisive economic measures to bring down the country’s deficit. in return for a $ 2.9 billion loan (£2.2 billion) from the International Monetary Fund.

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