A jobless man set himself afire Thursday in front of the main government office of the poor Tunisian province of Gafsa as three ministers visited the unemployment-hit area, local sources said.
The man was taken to hospital with third-degree burns and in a critical state, unionist Amar Amroussia said. He was later moved to a specialised hospital at Ben Arous, near the capital Tunis.
“The situation is very worrying and risks degenerating,” Amroussia said, adding that there had already been clashes between locals and security officials after the afternoon self-immolation.
The man, a 48-year-old father of three, was part of a group of unemployed men staging a sit-in in front of the main government office to demand jobs.
“He wanted to meet the team of ministers visiting Gafsa but did not get an answer,” a local source said.
A witness added: “He then poured petrol on himself and set himself alight, without saying anything.”
Interior ministry spokesman Hichem Meddeb, confirmed the immolation and said about 200 young people had gathered and were pelting stones at security forces.
The three ministers visiting Gafsa hold the social affairs, industry and employment portfolios.
Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit seller unwittingly started a wave of protests known as the Arab Spring, when he set himself alight in the town of Sidi Bouzid in December 2010, in protest against harassment by officials, and died from his burns in early January.
His actions sparked a revolt that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ignited protests across the region which ultimately led to the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
In January 2008, Gafsa was the epicentre of a popular uprising against the regime of Ben Ali. It lasted six months and was brutally crushed by the government of the time.
In November, violence broke out in Gafsa over allegedly corrupt hiring practices at the Gafsa Phosphates Company (CPG), the biggest employer in the region.
Tunisia is the fifth biggest producer of phosphates in the world. Last year, CPG and its parent firm lost 450 million euros (576 million dollars) as production plummeted by 60 percent.