Thousands demand jobs in Tunisia, police fire tear gas

TUNIS (Reuters) - Police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters demanding jobs in the impoverished Tunisian city of Kasserine on Wednesday, as smaller demonstrations broke out in the capital and at least eight other towns, residents said.

Crowds burned tyres 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.

Residents said young people also took to the streets on Wednesday 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 marginalisation 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.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Patrick Markey)