KASSERINE, Tunisia (Reuters) - Tunisian police firing tear gas clashed with hundreds of protesters who tried to storm local government buildings in several towns on Thursday in the third day of rioting over jobs, resident said.
At least one policeman has been killed in some of the worst protests in Tunisia since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. That triggered a series of “Arab Spring” revolts in the region that swept long-standing leaders from power.
Several thousands youths demonstrated on Thursday outside the local government office in Kasserine, the impoverished central town where protests began this week after a young man killed himself after apparently being refused a public job.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters trying to storm local government buildings in other towns, Jamdouba, Beja and Skira, and in Sidi Bouzid, where youths chanted “Jobs or Another Revolution,” according state media and local residents.
President Beji Caid Essebsi’s government announced on Wednesday it would seek to hire more than 6,000 young unemployed people from Kasserine, and start construction projects. On Thursday hundreds came to sign up for work, but tensions were still high.
“I’ve been out of work for 13 years, and I am a qualified technician. We are not looking for handouts just our right to work,” protester Mohamed Mdini told Reuters in Kasserine where crowds were angrily chanting, “Work, Freedom, Dignity.”
The protests have evoked memories of the suicide of a struggling young market vendor in December 2010 that became a catalyst for the Tunisian 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising which inspired angry mass protests across the Arab world.
Tunisia has been held up as a model for democratic progress since that uprising with free elections and a modern constitution. The country managed to mostly avoid the violent upheaval in other countries that toppled long-standing leaders.
But for many Tunisians, the revolution has not delivered on economic promises. Jobs, high living costs and a lack of opportunities remain the priority for many young Tunisians.
Three major Islamist militant attacks in Tunisia last year have also hit the economy hard, especially the tourism industry which is a key source of revenue and employment.
Unemployment rose to 15.3 percent in 2015 compared with 12 percent in 2010, driven by weak growth and a decline in investment coupled with a rise in the number of university graduates, who comprise one-third of jobless Tunisians.
Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Richard Balmforth
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