Protesters block major oil pumping station in Tunisia’s south

A Tunisian protester shuts down a valve blocking oil production in impoverished southern Tunisia amid growing demands by unemployed youths for jobs and the development of their marginalised region. (AFP Photo/FATHI NASRI)

Hundreds of protesters blocked an oil pipeline in Tunisia’s south as they continued demanding for employment opportunities and more economic development in the marginalized region.

The pipeline at the El-Kamour production facility, south of Tataouine, transports more than 50 percent of the country’s extracted oil.

“The oil that runs in the pipeline linking oil fields in the Tataouine desert to the Skhira terminal has been interrupted,” Hamed Matri, an advisor at the Energy ministry said.

Dozens of protesters, who began camping outside the facility on July 9, were eventually joined by several others on Thursday prior to the storming of the facility despite the presence of troops deployed to guard it.

The Ministry of Defence said military forces “acted responsibly, professionally and calmly to avoid causing any victims and aggravating the situation”.

According to Matri, discussions were underway with the protesters to resolve the stalemate.

In 2017, the Tunisian government arrived at a deal with area residents to invest millions to create jobs in oil companies and infrastructure projects to reduce unemployment. The region has one of the country’s highest unemployment rates at 30 percent.

Tunisia’s southern region is one of the most marginalised in the country, struggling with above-average unemployment, poor infrastructure and a restricted private sector. The failure of the government to implement the deal has resulted in weeks of unrest in Tataouine. In June, police and protesters who were demanding jobs clashed.

“There is a real problem of development in Tataouine,” Matri said.

Aside from economic difficulties, Tunisia is also in the midst of a political crisis following the resignation of Elyes Fakhfakh as prime minister earlier this week due to allegations of conflict of interest.