Tunisia lifts curfew after mass arrests

TUNIS, May 18 (Reuters) – Tunisia lifted an overnight curfew in the capital on Wednesday saying security had improved since authorities arrested 1,400 people linked to the latest anti-government protests.

Tunisia has been struggling to restore stability and rebuild its economy after the overthrow of authoritarian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January in an uprising which provided an inspiration for similar protests across the Arab world.

Tunisian authorities, which used tear gas to disband protests earlier this month, have said old allies of Ben Ali are among those to blame for inciting recent violence.

Protesters at recent demonstrations in Tunis have said they fear democratic change is not coming quickly enough and many complain about unfair working conditions in a country where unemployment runs at around 14 percent.

Tunisia needs $20-30 billion of foreign aid to help it exit the turmoil, a group of economists including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said on Tuesday.

They called on the G8 group of rich nations to provide the funds over the next five to ten years, saying that a successful political transition was in the interest of the international community, state-run news agency TAP said.

They said the G8 should adopt a road map for Tunisia’s transition and argued for the creation of a North African financial body to help countries in the region.

Tunisia’s interim government agrees that it needs billions of dollars of foreign money following the unrest.

Unlike its neighbours, it cannot rely on oil and gas resources to make ends meet and its services and industry-based economy has suffered badly. The curfew, in place since May 7, has also hurt small businesses in the capital.

Police have arrested 1,400 people in the past ten days, including in overnight raids, charging around 300 with dangerous crimes, and the Interior Ministry said the curfew was no longer necessary thanks to such security measures.

“The ministry has decided to lift the curfew due to the stabilisation of the security situation,” the ministry said.

Eight people were charged with homicide, 62 with aggression and violence, 100 with “terrorising” citizens and the rest with crimes such as theft, breaking the curfew and damaging property.

The recent protests were in part provoked by debate leading up to an election on July 24 which will select an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

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