Tunisian police fire tear gas to disperse angry protests over jobs

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian police fired tear gas on Tuesday to disperse hundreds of angry protesters demanding jobs in the central city of Kasserine, two days after a young unemployed man committed suicide, local residents said.

Mass unrest in Tunisia five years ago sparked revolutions that transformed the Arab world. But while countries such as Libya and Syria have been torn apart by violence, Tunisia avoided the worst of the chaos and remains relatively stable.

Despite democratisation since the toppling of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, many Tunisians still fret over high unemployment and inflation and a continued marginalisation of rural towns - factors that helped fuel the 2011 uprising.

"Security forces chased the protesters in the streets of the city and fired tear gas," Hatem Salhi, a witness, told Reuters by telephone.

Hundreds of unemployed protesters had gathered in front of the headquarters of the Kasserine governorate, where some threatened to commit suicide, prompting tear gas salvoes by security forces to scatter them, witnesses said.

Unemployment rates rose in Tunisia at the end of 2015 to 15.3 percent compared to 12 percent in 2010. University graduates represent one third of the unemployed in Tunisia.

Another witness said soldiers and police officers prevented the protesters from storming the headquarters of the governorate building. Kasserine is among Tunisia's most impoverished areas, with its highest regional unemployment at about 30 percent.

Residents and local media said Ridha Yahyaoui, the jobless man who committed suicide, killed himself after local authorities refused to accept his request for a post in the public sector. Authorities had no immediate comment.

Tunisia's 2011 "Arab Spring" uprising was sparked when a disaffected young man committed suicide, unleashing a tide of anger among the young unemployed that eventually forced Ben Ali to step down and flee the country.

Workers received some good news on Tuesday when the main UGTT union and largest industry association struck a deal to increase wages for about 1.5 million private sector employees, a decision that could avert strikes and protests.

The UGTT had threatened a general strike if Tunisia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry refused to raise wages. Government officials and business leaders say social tensions, strikes and demonstrations have led dozens of local and foreign companies to pull out of Tunisia since Ben Ali's fall.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey and Mark Heinrich)