KASSERINE, TUNISIA - Tunisian police firing tear gas clashed on Thursday with hundreds of protesters who set fire to a police post and tried to storm local government buildings in several towns during a third day of rioting over jobs, residents 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-serving leaders from power.
Several thousand youths demonstrated on Thursday outside the local government office in Kasserine, an impoverished central town where protests began this week after a young man killed himself after apparently being refused a public sector job.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters trying to storm local government buildings in several other towns including Sidi Bouzid, where youths chanted "Jobs or Another Revolution," according to state media and local residents.
Protesters set fire to a police station in the town of Guebeli in southern Tunisia and officers abandoned another post in Kef in the northwest, the interior ministry said.
This week's events have evoked memories of the suicide of a struggling young market vendor in December 2010 that became a catalyst for Tunisia's 2011 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 largely to avoid the violence that marred the political upheaval in other countries.
"Work, Freedom, Dignity"
But for many Tunisians, the revolution has not delivered on its economic promises, with the young in particular complaining about a lack of jobs and high living costs.
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 stood at 15.3 percent in 2015, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth, lower investment and a rise in the number of university graduates who comprise one-third of jobless Tunisians.
Responding to the latest protests, Prime Minister Habib Essid's office said he would return home early from a visit to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos and would hold an emergency cabinet meeting before visiting Kasserine on Saturday.
President Beji Caid Essebsi said on Wednesday the government would 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 remained 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."