- A large contingent of security forces was deployed on the site, but clashes weren't reported.
- Since July 9, dozens of protesters have camped in the desert near the El Kamour site.
- The Prime Minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, resigned on Wednesday.
Tunisian protesters, outraged by the economic crisis bedeviling the nation, as well as high unemployment rates therein, stormed one of the major oil pumping stations, located in the southern part of the country. They threatened to stop the production of crude oil and to close the valves of the oil pipelines.
Hundreds of the irate demonstrators stormed into the remote El-Kamour oil production site, which is situated in the desert, south of the town of Tataouine, despite the heavy presence of army personnel guarding the petroleum installations.
Consequently, a large contingent of security forces was deployed on the site, including a helicopter. Clashes between the protesters and the security guards weren’t reported, however.
Thursday’s demonstrations follow days of intense unrest in the south of the country, which is one of the most marginalized regions, burdened by high rates of unemployment, inadequate infrastructure, and non-existent private enterprises.
Since July 9, dozens of protesters have camped in the desert near the El Kamour site. Other groups joined them before they joined hands in blocking the oil station.
A press release published by the protest movement asks the government to accept the requests of the unemployed young people of Tataouine and not to further delay the implementation of all the clauses of the 2017 agreement.
The government made a deal to create jobs in oil companies and infrastructure projects, and to reduce unemployment, which is now running at 30 percent in the region, one of the highest rates in Tunisia.
The demonstrations can also be interpreted politically, owing to the power vacuum left by the resignation of the prime minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, on Wednesday. The race to negotiate to find a new prime minister within 10 days has officially started, and the Tunisian president, Kais Saied, has been tasked with searching for a premier who is able to win Parliament’s trust by September.
If that does not happen, Tunisia will face a new round of general elections, the second in less than a year. Tunisia last went to the polls in October.
The clashes in Tataouine began on June 21, and have been going on for about a month. According to statements by local governor Adel Werghi, the initially peaceful protests turned violent after the arrest of an activist wanted by the authorities, Tarek Haddad, a spokesman for the protesters.
In 2017, protests over unemployment in the provinces of Tataouine and Kebili, which affected oil and natural gas production in a region where the French company, Perenco, and the Austrian OMV still operate, led to an agreement for the creation new jobs in oil and development projects.
However, since then, the provisions of the pact have not yet been implemented, and the demonstrators, who said they were tired of waiting, have invoked government intervention to support their requests.
On Monday, the Minister of Investment, Selim Azzabi, said that the government has asked to be able to extend the payment of the debts due to four countries of the international community by the end of the year, given the poor budget forecasts for 2020.
The request underlines the serious condition of Tunisian public finances, which was already a cause for concern before the coronavirus crisis hit the global economy.