Violent protests broke out at the weekend in Tunisian cities, including the capital Tunis and the coastal city of Sousse, as anger grows over economic hardship.
The demonstrations on Saturday night came as Tunisia quietly marked the 10th anniversary of the revolution that toppled late president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled dictators across North Africa and the Gulf.
Internal Security Forces spokesman Walid Hkima told Reuters that riot police arrested around 250 people, mostly teenagers, who had vandalised property and tried to rob shops and banks.
Demonstrations in at least 15 cities began on Friday after a video posted on social media showed police shoving around a shepherd whose sheep had entered the local government headquarters.
In Sousse, witnesses said security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of angry protesters who were blocking roads and burning tyres. Security sources said demonstrators looted shops.
Violent protests also took place in several parts of the capital, Tunis. Protesters, most of them teenagers, blocked roads and threw stones at police. Police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse them.
In the decade since the revolution against unemployment, poverty, corruption and injustice, Tunisia has made progress towards democracy, but its economic situation has worsened with the country currently on the verge of bankruptcy.
The protests pose a challenge for the government of Hicham Mechichi who had imposed a four-day lockdown which began on Thursday, ostensibly to contain the spread of Covid-19, but which effectively banned expected anti-government demonstrations as well.
Many Tunisians questioned the timing of the four-day lockdown.
The 2010 Arab Spring was sparked by a 26-year-old fruit seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in December that year to protest police humiliation in Sidi Bouzid, a town in Tunisia’s neglected interior.
Bouazizi’s death unleashed simmering discontent and mass demonstrations against poverty, joblessness and repression that spread across the Arab world, giving repressed youngsters a brief period of hope.