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Scores of arrests as violent protests engulf Tunisia for 2nd day

A police vehicle drives along a road blocked by protesters during clashes in the Ettadhamen city suburb on the northwestwern outskirts of Tunisia's capital Tunis on January 17, 2021, amidst a wave of nightly protests in the North African country. (Photo by AFP)

Unrest has gripped more than a dozen cities in Tunisia for a second consecutive day, where police have confronted crowds of violent protesters and made scores of arrests.  

A decade on from a revolution that resulted in the downfall of long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the North African country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis.

In the capital Tunis, protesters, the majority of whom were teenagers, threw stones at police and blocked roads. Security forces responded by firing water cannon and tear gas.

There were also reports of shops being looted and attempts by rioters to rob banks in several cities.

Defense Ministry official Mohamed Zekri told Reuters that the army had deployed its troops to the cities of Sousse, Bizert, Kasserine and Seliana to protect government buildings from being vandalized.

Authorities confirmed 242 youths had been arrested following the violent clashes with police in several cities overnight and during the day on Sunday.

The new wave of unrest came amid a nationwide lockdown in place since Thursday as part of the government's efforts to contain a surge in coronavirus infections.

The country is experiencing a slump in its economy that has been intensified by the global pandemic.

Last week, Tunisia's prime minister announced a major cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to further empower its government to deal with the problems afflicting the nation.

Tunisia's economy has been devastated by a huge debt, resulting in poor public services in recent years. Political instability has added to the country's woes. 

The tourism-dependent economy shrank 21.6 percent in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the same period last year, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since a general election in 2019, political fragmentation and infighting have crippled Tunisia and fueled public dissatisfaction.

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