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Police Officer Killed in Tunisian Unemployment Protests

  • Reuters

Riot police walk along a road during a protest in Kasserine, Tunisia, Jan. 20, 2016.

Riot police walk along a road during a protest in Kasserine, Tunisia, Jan. 20, 2016.

Police clashed with protesters demanding jobs in the Tunisian city of Kasserine on Wednesday, and one policeman was killed as other demonstrations broke out in the capital and towns across the country, residents and officials said.

Large crowds burned tires and chanted "work, freedom, dignity" during a second day of demonstrations that erupted in the central city after an unemployed man killed himself, apparently after he was rejected for a job.

The death evoked memories of Tunisia's 2011 Arab Spring uprising that broke out when a struggling young market vendor committed suicide, unleashing a wave of anger that forced longtime leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to flee and inspiring mass protests across the Arab world.

Police fired clouds of tear gas after protesters tried to storm a police station in Kasserine, a Reuters witness said. Burning tyres blocked streets as police chased down groups of protesters.

"It's been seven years of no work for me. We're sick of just promises. We won't go back to our homes until we get something concrete this time. ... We just want to live with dignity," said Samir, 30.

Protesters had stayed out on the streets overnight, defying a curfew imposed Tuesday.

Residents said young people also took to the streets in Seliana, Tahala, Feriana, Sbiba, El Fahs, Kairouan and Sousse, as well as the capital, Tunis, where several hundred marched on the city's central Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

At least one policeman was killed in Feriana after he was attacked by protesters, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said.

Jobs for 6,000

Seeking to calm protests, President Beji Caid Essebsi's government announced Wednesday that it would seek to hire more than 6,000 young unemployed people from Kasserine and start construction projects in the region.

"We don't have a magic wand to fix the situation in Kasserine straight away, but we are working on public investments that will start soon there," government spokesman Khaled Chaouket said.

Despite a shift to democracy since the toppling of Ben Ali, many Tunisians are worrying more about unemployment, high living costs and the ongoing marginalization of rural towns — all factors that helped fuel the 2011 uprising.

Unemployment in the North African country had risen to 15.3 percent by the end of 2015 compared with 12 percent in 2010, driven by weak economic growth and a decline in investment in both the public and private sectors coupled with a rise in the number of university graduates, who now constitute one-third of jobless Tunisians.

Three major Islamist militant assaults last year — shootings at a tourist hotel and a Tunis museum as well as a suicide bombing on troops in the capital — have hurt the economy, particularly the tourism industry.