At least 773 detained in protests in Tunisia

Jan. 13 (UPI) — At least 773 protesters demonstrating against austerity measures in Tunisia have been arrested throughout the nation since Monday, the country’s Interior Ministry said.

On Friday, Interior Ministry Col. Major Khalifa Chibani said arrests included 151 on Thursday, including in the capital, Tunis, Chibani told the state-run Tunis Africa Press Agency, or TAP.

The Tunisian government said the arrests were for vandalism or looting, but the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned the country to protect the rights of its citizens.

“The authorities must ensure that those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are not prevented from doing so,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Protesters are primarily taking issue with a new finance act in the country, which had led to increases in the value-added tax and consumer prices. Others have centered on the upcoming anniversary of the 2011 revolution that toppeled then-President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The anti-austerity youth movement is named Fech Nestannow, which translates as “What are we waiting for?”

Amnesty International reported one protester has died during the unrest in the northern Africa nation. The organization said he died after a police car ran him over twice but Tunisia’s Ministry of Interior said that he had suffocated to death from tear gas because he had a chronic respiratory condition.

Among those detained, about 60 were identified as being linked to Takfiri terrorist groups, the Tunisian government said.

Chibani said 97 security officers were injured and some 88 police vehicles damaged in the protests.

“We are closely watching the demonstrations across Tunisia and the authorities’ response to them,” Colville said.

Colville said he was concerned about the high number of young people arrested.

In an arrest breakdown by age, 54.95 percent of the detainees are aged between 21 and 30, 31 percent between 15 and 20, 11.71 percent between 31 and 40 and 1.8 percent over 40, Chibani said.

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