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Nationwide curfew announced in Tunisia amid protests

A young Tunisian protester who tried to commit suicide is carried by a member of the Tunisian army after witnesses said they saved his life in the central Tunisian city of Kasserine on January 22, 2016. (AFP photo)

Tunisia has imposed a nationwide curfew in response to growing social unrest over unemployment.

Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said on Friday that the curfew will begin overnight, warning that those who disobey the decision would risk prosecution.

The unrest was triggered on January 17, when a young man who had reportedly been sacked from his government job protested by climbing a transmission tower and was electrocuted.

Since the beginning of this week, people have held demonstrations against unemployment and poverty across towns in central Tunisia. The hotbed of the protests has been the city of Kasserine, where clashes erupted for the first time between police and protesters earlier in the week.

“In light of these attacks against public and private property, and given that the continuation of these acts represents a danger to the security of citizens, it was decided to declare a curfew across Tunisia from 20:00 to 05:00,” said the ministry in a statement.

The curfew order excluded medical emergencies and those working at night, saying the measure was adopted to restore calm to the areas that have seen acts of violence over the past few days.

The situation in Kasserine was clam mid-morning on Friday with protesters gathering in front of the governor’s office.

Demonstrators say they will continue the protests.

“Are we not Tunisians too? It’s been four years I’ve been struggling. We're not asking for much, but we're fighting for our youth. We struggled so much for them,” said Leila Omri, the mother of an unemployed graduate in Kesserine.

16 arrested for pillaging

Officials said on Friday that 16 people had been arrested following acts of “sacking and pillaging of businesses and banks” on the outskirts of the capital, Tunis.

Police and security officers used tear gas to repel protesters in balaclavas and armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. A police station was attacked and stores were looted the previous night in the town of Ettadhamen.

“We stand with peaceful protesters, but other acts - violence against public and private property - will be severely punished,” Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Walid Louguini said, adding that those looting the banks and businesses were “criminals trying to take advantage of the situation.”

Tunisian media said Prime Minister Habib Essid was cutting short a visit to France to deal with the growing protests which could spark a new wave of unrest in the country more than four years after a similar uprising led to the ouster of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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