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Man killed as Tunisia anti-austerity protests spread

Police clash with hundreds protesting against unemployment, high prices and new taxes across Tunisia
Tunisian protesters outside the El Kamour oil pumping station in May 2017 (AFP)

One person was killed on Monday during clashes between security forces and protesters in a Tunisian town, the government said, as demonstrations over rising prices and tax hikes spread in the North African country.

A man was killed during a protest against government austerity measures in Tebourba, 40 kilometres west of Tunis, the interior ministry said in a statement.

He had had chronic breathing problems and died due to suffocation from inhaling tear gas, it said, denying reports that he was run over by a vehicle belonging to security forces.

The protest turned violent when security forces tried stopping some youths from burning down a government building, witnesses said. Five people were wounded and taken to a hospital, state news agency TAP said.

Protests against rising prices and tax increases spread to around 10 towns across Tunisia.

Police fired tear gas and clashed with hundreds of people protesting against unemployment, high prices and new taxes, residents said.

Tunisia, widely seen as the only democratic success among nations where Arab Spring revolts took place in 2011, is suffering increasing economic hardship. The dinar hit a record low on Monday on trade deficit data and other factors.

On 1 January, the government raised the price of gasoil and some goods as well taxes on cars, phone calls, internet services, hotel accommodation and other items, part of austerity measures agreed with its foreign lenders.

The economy has been in crisis since a 2011 uprising unseated the previous government and two major militant attacks in 2015 hit the tourism sector, which comprises eight percent of GDP and is a key source of foreign revenue.

Police fired tear gas in the central city of Thala to disperse hundreds demanding jobs while protesting against high inflation.

The protesters burned tires and threw stones at the police, Mohamed Hedi Omria, a resident, told Reuters. Clashes were also reported from Kasserine, another impoverished central town where hundreds demonstrated against price increases.

In the capital Tunis, security forces dispersed small protests late on Sunday.

On Monday, about 300 people took to the streets in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country's Arab Spring revolution, carrying banners aloft with slogans denouncing high prices.

Similar protests erupted in May over the economy, and one demonstrator was killed then in the southern state of Tataouine after being run over by a national guard vehicle.

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