Tunisia: Police and high school students have clashed for two days in a small city of Tunisia, with protesters setting fire to the local headquarters of President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali's ruling party, a union representative said Tuesday.

The North African nation has been gripped by more than two weeks of protests over unemployment that were sparked when a young man set himself on fire, in despair after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he sold without a permit. The unrest has led to three deaths.

The latest protests broke out in Thala, 250 kilometres southwest of the capital.

As classes resumed after winter vacation Monday, hundreds of high school students and other protesters clashed with police, who used tear gas, said a union official who was present.

The man spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing problems in a country where the media is heavily controlled by the state.

Amid the clashes, demonstrators set fire to tires and to the local ruling party headquarters on Monday, the official said. The unrest continued on Tuesday.

Several people were arrested, and others were hospitalized with injuries, the union official said. The protests shuttered local schools.

France's LCI television broadcast video of Thala that showed packs of shouting young men roaming the streets and clouds of smoke in the air.

Such overt clashes are rare in Tunisia, a popular tourist destination on the Mediterranean where the government brooks little dissent and is routinely criticised for its human rights record.

Tunisia's unemployment rate is around 14 per cent, a figure believed much higher in rural areas.

The protests started on December 17 after 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire in public.

Bouazizi had a university degree but no steady work and sold produce in the street to earn money for his family - a story that resonated with many. Bouazizi is still hospitalised.

In one protest, police opened fire, killing two people. In another, an unemployed youth electrocuted himself on an electricity pylon.

Reacting to the unrest, the president has ordered a $4.5 billion (Dh16.5 billion) plan to create jobs for Tunisians with university diplomas.

The opposition said that the government's response has been inadequate and that the protests are fueled not only by unemployment but by a lack of personal freedoms.