Tunisian troops have reportedly fired warning shots to disperse protesters marching on a crucial gas facility in the south of the country.
The protesters, who tried to close down the gas pumping facility in Tatatouine province, on Saturday encountered the troops, who fired shots in the air, reports in the local media said.
The protesters had earlier threatened to shut down gas production in Tunisia if the government did not heed their demands for jobs and better economic conditions. The government ordered the deployment of troops earlier this month to protect gas and oil facilities from disruption in operation. A similar order was issued during earlier protests near strategic phosphate production facilities.
“The young men were angry and shouting about the need for work and the army fired in the air when they arrived at the pumping station. Troops are refusing to let them in,” a witness said from the scene of the protest in Vana.
There were no immediate reports of clashes. Protesters had earlier forced two major oil companies in the area to halt activities and withdraw their staff. Nearly 10,000 people have been camping in the region, reluctant to accept offers by the government for jobs and development.
The protests come amid plans by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to implement austerity reforms.
Rallies have also been held in other parts of Tunisia to protest against a government decision that allows businesses that were shut down during the 2011 revolution to resume activity if they reimburse the government for illegal gains they had made in the former regime. The Tunisian leader says the measure is necessary to boost an economy that has yet to fully emerge from years of unrest and major terrorist attacks that have also affected tourism.
Tunisia is quite accustomed to social unrest aimed at seeking work and development. Such protests in 2011 led to the ouster of dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, while triggering massive political developments in the Arab world.
Tunisian officials have declared that the unrest would be tolerated as long as it does not pose a threat to national security.
President Beji Caid Essebsi has ordered the army to do what is necessary to protect businesses amid widening protests.
Essebsi said on May 10 that continued protests had cost the government five billion dinars (about two billion dollars), especially due to the stoppages of phosphate mining. He said the situation had worsened the country’s debt.
By Africafrique and agencies