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Measures to aid needy agreed as Tunisia marks Arab Spring anniversary

Tunisian authorities announced plans to boost aid to the needy in a bid to placate protesters whose demonstrations over price hikes degenerated into days of unrest across the North African nation, which is marking seven years on Sunday since its long-time autocratic ruler was driven into exile.

A coalition of political parties and associations called for peaceful protests on the anniversary to tell the country's new leaders that they have failed to fix problems that encouraged the revolution and hopes of social and economic justice.

A new finance law raising prices of essential goods sparked the unrest.

The Tunisian economy has struggled since President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile on January 14 2011, transforming the country into a budding democracy that inspired the Arab Spring, then defied it by being the only country to keep its transition peaceful.

But six governments later, loans continue to weigh on the economy, extremist attacks have sapped the important tourism sector, and regions far from the capital, where the revolution was ignited, remain neglected.

Tunisia's prime minister Youssef Chahed decided to allocate 100 million dinars (40 million US dollars) to help 200,000 of the neediest families plus free health care for the jobless, Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi announced after a Saturday night Cabinet meeting.

An aid fund for poor families to acquire housing also was created.

The Popular Front, a coalition of leftist parties, called the measures "laughable" and in a statement Sunday called for protests "until suspension of the measures in the finance law that affect citizens' buying power".

Frustration was in full view last week when small demonstrations erupted around the country before ballooning and degenerating into theft, pillaging and car-burning in some places as momentum grew.

A police crackdown stemmed the protests by week's end.

One person died in unrest outside the capital, Tunis, and scores were injured, including 97 security officers in five days of unrest that began a week ago, Interior Ministry spokesman Khlifa Chibani said on Friday.

Dozens of police cars were damaged, two police stations burned and eight others ransacked. Arrests were put at nearly 780, including 16 religious extremists, for vandalism and looting.

President Beji Caid Essebsi was visiting on Sunday a housing project outside Tunis that had been a site of unrest.

"Tunisians are capable of overcoming current difficulties," he said on Saturday night, calling on citizens "for a bit of patience and understanding".

AP

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