Tunisia protests: Reforms announced after days of unrest

The Tunisian government has announced a wave of social reforms, reacting to days of demonstrations by anti-austerity protesters.

Protests broke out ahead of Sunday’s seventh anniversary of the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Emergency government meetings were held in response to protests, which have seen more than 800 people arrested.

President Beji Caid Essebsi is due to visit a district of Tunis on Sunday that has been the scene of protests.

Opposition parties have called for more demonstrations on Sunday, saying that conditions have not improved since Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was deposed as president at the start of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings.

Demonstrations in the North African country began on 7 January after the government announced New Year tax and price increases in its 2018 budget.

Rallies took place in at least 10 different areas, including the capital, Tunis. They began peacefully but clashes broke out between protesters and police, resulting in hundreds of arrests over several days.

The government accused demonstrators of setting fire to police cars and attacking officials. Some people tried to take over shopping malls and stores, while others blocked roads.

In the town of Thala, near the Algerian border, the army was called in on Wednesday after protesters burnt down the national security offices and police were forced to retreat.

The defence ministry said the army was protecting banks, post offices and other government buildings in Tunisia’s main cities.

Demonstrators have accused police of a violent crackdown.

Demonstrators want the government to abandon the 2018 budget, which opposition groups describe as unfair. They also want to see more welfare payments for struggling families.

The budget brought in an increase in value-added tax and social contributions along with price hikes on some goods and increased taxes on imports.

Even before the recent spate of protests there was simmering anger that life for many Tunisians had not improved since the Arab Spring.

The announcement came after two hours of crisis talks at the presidential palace that included President Essebsi, political parties and trade unionists.

“We discussed the general situation in the country and the reforms, especially socio-economic, that must be adopted to overcome the current problems,” said Wided Bouchamaoui, head of the UTICA employers’ federation.

Officials said plans had been submitted to parliament to reform medical care, housing and increase aid to the poor.

Social affairs minister Mohammed Trabelsi said the government proposed increasing welfare payments to those in need by 170m dinars ($70m; £50m). (Courtesy BBC)