Tunis - Tunisia has arrested 16 people over "sacking and pillaging" in a suburb of the capital, authorities said Friday, as social unrest rumbled on in the centre of the country.
"Following acts of sacking and pillaging of businesses and banks in Ettadhamen," a working class neighbourhood northwest of Tunis, security forces "arrested 16 people," a National Guard official said.
National Guard units clashed with individuals in balaclavas until early Friday morning, Khalifa Chibani said.
An AFP journalist reported Friday that two household appliance stores and a bank branch had been ransacked on the neighbourhood's main street and that a police post had been burnt.
Witnesses spoke of "the work of troublemakers".
Interior ministry spokesman Walid Louguini confirmed the arrests and blamed "criminals trying to take advantage of the situation."
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"We stand with peaceful protesters, but other acts -- violence against public and private property -- will be severely punished," he said.
Protests against unemployment and poverty have spread across towns in central Tunisia since the beginning of the week.
Security forces have clashed with protesters in several towns, including in Kasserine where the unrest started, using tear gas against them.
At least three police stations have been attacked over the last 24 hours and 42 members of the security forces have been wounded, the interior ministry said.
The situation was relatively calm on Friday morning, Louguini said.
Several hundred protesters who gathered mid-morning in front of the Kasserine governor's office were met with fewer security forces than on previous days, an AFP journalist said.
Demonstrators who had spent the night in a meeting hall opposite the building said they were determined to continue their protest.