More than 600 arrests in latest Tunisian unrest

TUNIS — Tunisian police arrested more than 600 people in the past five days of unrest, the government said Tuesday as the north African country struggles to stabilise following the ouster of the Ben Ali regime.

The interior ministry said offences included theft, arson, possession of weapons and breach of curfew, the TAP news agency reported.

An overnight curfew was imposed Saturday in Tunis and its suburbs after several days of anti-government protests.

Interim authorities are preparing for an election called after a popular uprising ended the 23-year rule of strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January.

On Monday Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi warned that the polls, promised for July 24, could be delayed.

The new wave of protests erupted last Thursday after former interior minister Farhat Rajhi claimed that Ben Ali loyalists were planning a military coup should the newly legalised Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party win the election.

He later back-pedaled on the remarks but was fired as head of the human rights commission and branded a liar by Essebsi.

A 25-year-old man reportedly died after he was shot in the stomach when troops opened fire to disperse stone-throwing protesters in the Slimane suburb on Sunday.

Witnesses reported the torching of police stations and banks and the looting of shops and homes.

The interior ministry said police had made 197 arrests across the country overnight Monday. Some were for throwing stones at security forces and damaging security and administrative buildings.

The weeks of demonstrations that led to Ben Ali’s ouster sparked similar uprisings against long-standing regimes across the Arab world.

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