Thousands of Tunisian Lawyers Join Protest Against New Taxes

Tunisian lawyers demonstrate against the government's proposed new taxes, near the courthouse in Tunis, Tunisia December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS, Dec 6  – Several thousand Tunisian lawyers demonstrated on Tuesday in front of the prime minister’s office, with some demanding his resignation as they escalated a protest against widely unpopular new taxes that will hit them and other high-end professions.

Under a budget draft approved by parliament’s finance committee on Monday, lawyers will pay tax of between about $8 to $20 on each file they present to court. The levy is part of austerity measures proposed for 2017 by a government under pressure from international lenders to cut the fiscal deficit.

According to a Reuters witness some 3,500 of the country’s 8,500 lawyers joined the protest in Tunis which, coming on top of an open-ended strike that the profession launched on Monday, will test the government’s resolve to implement its reforms.

The budget draft also includes a public sector wage freeze, in protest at which the UGTT union – the country’s biggest – has called a general strike for Thursday.

Sources told Reuters that the union was likely to cancel the planned strike after a new offer from the government.

At Tuesday’s protest, lawyers chanted: “We reject this unjust law” with some demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

Anxious to revive a struggling economy, the government has sent a budget to parliament that also includes higher company taxes and new taxes on other professions including medics and engineers.

Chahed, who became prime minister in August, has proposed a broad package of initiatives to cut spending, spur growth and create jobs. But many Tunisians worry that taxes and austerity measures will exacerbate the economic difficulties they have experienced since an uprising in 2011.

Last week Chahed called the 2017 budget the most controversial in Tunisia’s history, but said his government “had the courage to begin these reforms in order to balance our public finances”.

Several other sectors have held or threatened strikes, while the UTICA industry and business employers’ association, a major economic lobbying group, has rejected a proposed exceptional tax contribution on business.

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