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Tunisian protesters clash with riot police during demonstrations against rising prices and tax increases, in Tunis, Tunisia January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

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By Ulf Laessing and Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia plans to increase support for poor families and needy people, a government source said on Saturday, after protests broke out in the North African country.

The source did not give more details but it was the first time an official talked about increasing aid since protests, some of them violent, broke out on Monday against austerity measures imposed by the government to cut a budget deficit.

President Beji Caid Essebsi was meeting on Saturday with the ruling coalition of Islamists and secular forces to discuss the protests, a source said, without giving details.

Activists and the opposition have called for fresh protests on Sunday, the seventh anniversary of the toppling of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to fall in the 2011 "Arab Spring" protests that swept the region.

On Saturday, several hundred protesters took to the streets in Sidi Bouzid, a central town where the 2011 uprising erupted after a young man set himself on fire following the confiscation of his fruit cart by policemen demanding bribes.

The fresh protests draw on anger over price and tax increases included in this year's budget that took effect on Jan. 1.

The government has blamed the opposition and "troublemakers" for stoking unrest, a charge the opposition has denied.

Almost 800 people have been arrested for vandalism and violence such as throwing petrol bombs at police stations, the interior ministry said on Friday.

Prices have increased for fuel and some consumer goods, while taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items have also gone up.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring: the one Arab country to topple a long-serving leader in that year's uprisings without triggering widespread violence or civil war. Tunisian politicians were awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for achieving non-violent change.

But Tunisia has had nine governments since Ben Ali's overthrow, none of which have been able to resolve deep-rooted economic problems. The economy worsened since a vital tourism sector was nearly wiped out by a wave of deadly militant attacks in 2015, and has yet to recover despite improved security.

(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Tarek Amara; Editing by Alexander Smith and Ros Russell)

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Reuters