Police fire teargas to disperse protesters in Tunisia

TUNIS Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:11pm EST

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Protesters threw stones at police officers who repelled them with teargas in northern Tunisia on Wednesday after a peaceful rally to demand more jobs turned violent.

Two years after the revolution that toppled Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired protests across the Arab world, increasing numbers of Tunisians are taking to the streets to demand economic development, disillusioned that their uprising has yet to provide prosperity and security.

The Islamist-led government that was elected after the veteran ruler fled has sought to revive the economy in the face of a decline in trade with the crisis-hit euro zone and disputes between secularists and hard-line Salafi Islamists over the direction of the North African Arab state.

Witnesses said the marchers had tried to attack the police station in El Kef when the clashes broke out.

"Police fired teargas everywhere and beat protesters with sticks ... There are many cases of people suffering from the gas," Karim Fadlaoui, a resident from El Kef, told Reuters.

Another witness, who gave her name only as Dorra, said there were violent clashes and teargas cloaked the town.

The farming town of about 45,000 people, about 180 km (110 miles) north of Tunis, has only a small number of factories and is keen for the government to invest in the area and create jobs. While the government forecasts 4.5 percent growth this year, up from an estimated 3.5 percent in 2012, unemployment has reached 17 percent.

Protests have started to gather pace in Tunisia again since November - the run up to December's second anniversary of when a street peddler burned himself to death in despair at the confiscation of his fruit cart in the poor town of Sidi Bouzid.

His suicide provided the spark for the uprising in Tunisia that spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.

More than 8,000 secular demonstrators gathered on Monday outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis's Bourguiba Avenue, the same spot where protests forced Ben Ali to accept his rule was over and flee the country on January 14, 2011.

At least 200 people were injured when Tunisians demanding jobs clashed with police in late November in the city of Siliana in a region on the edge of the Sahara desert that has long complained of economic deprivation.

Violent clashes also took place last week between police and protesters demanding work in Ben Guerdane, near the Libyan border. Protesters burned a police station and cars. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Alison Williams)

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