Tunisian Govt. to Increase Financial Support for Poor Families

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Essebsi was expected to discuss a way out of the latest crisis with representatives of political parties, the powerful UGTT trade union and the UTICA employers federation.

The announcement comes the day before the seventh anniversary of anti-government protests that led to the ouster of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered the so-called Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations across North Africa and the Middle East.

On Friday, police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of demonstrators protesting in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid, considered the epicenter of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Addressing protesters, campaign coordinator Wael Nawar vowed to organize a mass sit-in outside the parliament building in Tunis if the unpopular law was not swiftly revoked. A total of 778 people have been arrested in Tunisia after three nights of clashes between protesters and security forces over price hikes, said the Interior Ministry on Friday.

Protests, some of them violent, were held on Monday against austerity measures such as increases of tax and prices imposed by the government to cut a budget deficit.

One protester died in unclear circumstances in Tebourba, a town 40 kilometers west of the capital Tunis.

About 50 policemen were wounded in that violence and 237 people were arrested, including two Islamists, said interior ministry spokesman Khelifa Chibani. "What happened had nothing to do with democracy and protests against price hikes".

Chibani told local radio that clashes between youths and police were "limited" and "not serious", and insisted no acts of violence, theft or looting were recorded Thursday evening.

Its democracy remains for the most part intact and a secular party now leads the government in coalition with a moderate Islamist group.

The International Monetary Fund agreed in 2016 to a four-year loan program worth about $2.8 billion but payments are tied to the Tunisian government carrying out economic and social reforms. 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. The unemployment rate at the end of a year ago amounted to more than 15 percent, the annual inflation rate was 6.4 percent.

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