Middle East

Jobless protesters torch police post in Tunisia

Bodyguards stand near Beji Caid Essebsi (seated), former Tunisian prime minister and leader of the Nida Touns (Call of Tunisia) secular party, as he speaks during a news conference in Tunis February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Anis Mili

METLAOUI, Tunisia: Jobless Tunisian protesters have torched a police post in the impoverished central region of Gafsa, where social discontent is rife over high unemployment despite the strategic importance of its phosphate mines.

The demonstrators set fire to the building in the town of Metlaoui late on Tuesday and confronted policemen, an AFP journalist reported.

Local authorities said no one was hurt in the unrest, which saw one of the town's main roads blocked.

Police eventually managed to restore order with the help of reinforcements sent from Gafsa, the regional capital.

The riot was triggered by the announcement of the results of a recruitment process by a public company operating in the environmental sector.

Such announcements frequently lead to clashes between unlucky candidates and the police, prompting the authorities in January not to publish the list of people recruited by a company in Gafsa.

Tunisia remains prey to sometimes violent social unrest, especially in the neglected centre of the country, more than three years after a street vendor set himself on fire in a desperate act of protest that launched the first Arab Spring uprising.

Gafsa is economically important because of its phosphate mines, but remains among the poorest areas in Tunisia despite its natural wealth. It saw anti-government protests in 2008 that were savagely repressed by the regime of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Unemployment was a driving factor behind the revolution that toppled Ben Ali and continues to affect some 15 percent of the economically active population, with the figure rising to more than 30 percent among school leavers.

Tunisia's phosphate production, meanwhile, has dropped to 30 percent of capacity since the 2011 uprising, disrupted by strikes and protests despite the government having created jobs for thousands of people in the sector.





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