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Tunisia protesters close oil pumping station after army standoff

People hold banners during a protest against government's bill on Economic and Financial Reconciliation in Tunis, Tunisa on April 29, 2017 [ Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency]
People hold banners during a protest against government's bill on Economic and Financial Reconciliation in Tunis, Tunisa on April 29, 2017 [ Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian protesters shut an oil pumping station that feeds a coastal terminal on Saturday after a standoff with troops, escalating a weeks-long protest for jobs in their marginalised southern region.

Tunisia is a small oil producer with around 44,000 barrels per day nationwide. But weeks of protests in southern provinces have already forced two foreign oil and gas companies to stop production or close fields and another removed staff as a precaution.

The army has been protecting energy facilities in south Tataouine province. But after troops fired in the air to disperse a crowd, an agreement was reached to allow a local engineer to close the Vana pumping station to avoid any clashes, state radio and two witness said.

“After the army intervened by firing twice in the air, the young protesters got in and with the help of a local engineer were able to close the station,” witness Jamel Daifallah said by telephone.

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State-run Tatatouine radio also reported the pumping station had been closed. No injuries were reported after the army fired in the air or during the shutdown of the station.

The army did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Six years after its uprising ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule as part of the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia still struggles to address demands for jobs and economic opportunities in marginalised regions such as Tatatouine.

Around 1,000 protesters have been camped out for weeks in the Sahara in a region where Italy’s ENI and Austria’s OMV have operations. But government offers of jobs and development have so far failed to end the standoff.

Tunisia is a small oil producer at around 44,000 barrels per day total. But weeks of protest in southern provinces already forced two foreign companies to stop production or close fields and another removed staff as a precaution.

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