Police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters demanding jobs in the impoverished Tunisian city of Kasserine Wednesday, as smaller demonstrations broke out in the capital and at least eight other towns, residents 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 and protests 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 inspired mass protests across the Arab world.
Police fired clouds of tear gas after protesters tried to storm a police station in Kasserine. 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 on Tuesday.
“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.
Residents said young people also took to the streets in Seliana, Tahala, Feriana and Sbiba, El Fahs, Kairouan, and Sousse, as well as the capital Tunis, where several hundred marched on the city’s central Habib Bourguiba Avenue.
Despite a shift to democracy since the toppling of Ben Ali, many Tunisians worry 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 comprise 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.