In Tunisia Thousands of lawyers protest 2017 draft budget

Tunisia's powerful UGTT labour union in October urged workers to mobilise against the draft budget over the salary freeze.

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Tunisian lawyers shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration against a draft 2017 budget that would impose a public sector pay freeze on December 6, 2016 outside Tunis law court play

Tunisian lawyers shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration against a draft 2017 budget that would impose a public sector pay freeze on December 6, 2016 outside Tunis law court

(AFP)
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More than 2,000 lawyers protested in Tunisia's capital on Tuesday against a draft budget for 2017 stipulating a new tax for their profession, AFP reporters said.

"With our souls and our blood, we will defend the lawyer's profession!" chanted protesters in black court robes after a silent march in central Tunis.

Protesters held up banners reading: "Lawyers are angry!" and "We won't fund your corruption!"

According to the draft budget being reviewed by parliament, lawyers will have to pay tax on each of their cases, which can later be deducted from their income tax.

The measure "affects... the freedom and independence" of lawyers, said Lotfi Arbi, head of the Tunis branch of the national bar association, who had called the demonstration.

According to online newspaper Inkyfada, an analysis of official data showed that 60 percent of registered lawyers did not submit a tax return in 2015.

It said lawyers who do declare their income pay on average 228 dinars (92 euros) in tax each month.

But not all lawyers are against the new tax provision in the budget.

"We defend widows and children, but today we're giving the impression we just defend our own interests," lawyer and lawmaker Bochra Belhaj Hmida said.

Tunisia has been riven by a string of jihadist attacks, including on its vital tourism sector, and the economy has struggled since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

A new cabinet, in office since August after the previous government failed to redress the country's ailing economy, has faced criticism over its draft budget for 2017.

The text also provides for a one-year public sector salary freeze.

Tunisia's powerful UGTT labour union in October urged workers to mobilise against the draft budget over the salary freeze.

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