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Violent protests erupt in Tunisia after journalist sets himself on fire

Tunis, Tunisia -- Tunisian authorities have arrested 18 people during protests that erupted after the death of a journalist who set himself on fire to protest economic problems in the North African nation, officials said Wednesday.

Thirteen were arrested in the provincial city of Kasserine and five others in Tebourba, near Tunis, Interior Ministry spokesman Sofiane Zaag said.

Clashes between police and Tunisian authorities took place in several regions over the past two days after journalist Abderrazak Zorgui posted a video online before his self-immolation in Kasserine describing his desperation and calling for revolt. He expressed frustration at unemployment and the unfulfilled promises of Tunisia's 2011 Arab Spring revolution. 

"For the sons of Kasserine who have no means of subsistence, today I start a revolution. I am going to set myself on fire," he said in the video, Germany's Deutsche Welle reported.

The most violent protests took place in Kasserine, in west central Tunisia, where police used tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators. According to ShemsFM radio, the military was deployed to help police tackle the protests and secure state buildings. 

Tear gas is seen as protesters clash with riot police attempting to disperse the crowd during demonstrations, in Kasserine
Tear gas is seen as protesters clash with riot police attempting to disperse the crowd during demonstrations, in Kasserine, Tunisia, December 25, 2018. STRINGER/REUTERS

In Tunis, dozens of protesters gathered on Bourguiba Avenue -- the capital city's main road -- to protest costs of living increases and chanted slogans hostile to the regime.

Meanwhile, Kasserine tribunal spokesman Achref Youssefi said an investigation "for failure to assist a person in danger" has been opened following the death of Zorgui. He said a suspect has been arrested.

A similar self-immolation by Mohamed Bouaziz -- a street vendor lamenting unemployment, corruption and repression -- led to nationwide protests fueled by social media that brought down Tunisia's long-time authoritarian president in 2011. That ushered in democracy for Tunisia and unleashed similar movements across the Arab world, including in Libya, Yemen and Egypt.