TUNIS, Tunisia -- More than 800 inmates escaped on Friday from two Tunisian prisons after fires were set in cells, the official news agency said.
Soldiers and security forces quickly fanned out in a search of the fugitives and at least 35 were caught within hours, TAP said, citing military sources.
TAP reported that 522 inmates from the prison in Kasserine escaped after a fire in two cells, and another 300 inmates escaped from the Gafsa prison.
The two towns are both in Tunisia's center-west region about 95 miles apart. Personnel at the prison in Gafsa were on strike at the time, likely making the mass exodus by inmates easier.
The North African nation has been hit by social unrest since the country's long-time autocratic ruler was ousted Jan. 14 in an uprising.
Some 11,000 inmates escaped from Tunisian prisons shortly after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile. Of those, several thousand have been caught and nearly 2,000 turned themselves in after the Justice Ministry warned the escape could worsen their cases, TAP reported.
Earlier, in the capital Tunis, police fired tear gas at hundreds of Islamists protesting what they said were offensive comments toward Islam by two teachers.
Protesters chanted "God is Great," and carried banners including one reading "We do not pardon those who insult the prophet."
Several hours of peaceful protest degenerated when some demonstrators sought to take on police, who immediately fired tear gas.
The demonstration on the main Avenue Bourguiba was the latest since Ben Ali was brought down, hounded out of the country by protesters angry over unemployment, corruption and repression.
Tunisia's uprising prompted protests around the Arab world.