new conflicts in Tataouine where protesters demand jobs

Collisions resumed on Monday between law enforcement and protesters in Tataouine, in the marginalized southern Tunisia, where protesters claim the thousands of jobs promised by the government in 2017.

Collisions broke out again, Monday, June 22, in the city of Tataouine, in southern Tunisia, between police and protesters. They require jobs and the implementation of an employment plan promised by the CEO in 2017.

“The situation is dangerous, from the window of my house I see the police shooting tear gas and chasing young people,” Ismail Smida, a resident of Tataouine, told Reuters. Another witness also reported collisions between the police and hundreds of protesters who threw stones, blocked roads and claimed their “right to development and employment”.

The army was deployed in front of the state’s establishments, the Ministry of Defense stated.

Call for general strike

The strong union center UGTT condemned the use of “excessive and unjustified” force against the protesters on Monday in Tataouine. Stores were open, but public services and government institutions remained closed, according to AFP correspondents.

For several weeks, young and unemployed people from Tataouine, a city 500 km from Tunis, have seen a sitting in to demand the implementation of agreements signed in 2017 with the government, promising jobs and investments in this marginalized region. They temporarily blocked some roads in the city and trucks from the oil and gas companies serving the production site of El Kamour, which is 160 kilometers away, in the middle of the desert.

According to the Ministry of Energy, these disturbances had no effect on oil and gas production, unlike 2017, when protesters had finally blocked the valves in the pipelines. At that time, the government had promised to invest 80 million dinars each year (about € 27 million) for the development of Tataouine, without this being realized, according to the union UGTT. And only some of the thousands of jobs promised in oil companies or environmental maintenance structures have been created.

Tataouine, the region most affected by unemployment

Ten years after the revolution, Tataouine, an area furthest south of Tunisia, remains where most of Tunisia’s scarce hydrocarbon resources remain, underdeveloped, NGO Oxfam pointed out in a report published on inequalities on Monday.

In 2019, “a resident of Tataouine, the region most affected by unemployment (28.7%), is four times more likely to be unemployed than a resident of Monastir”, a favorable coastal area, Oxfam emphasizes. Public health services are also very poorly distributed with 10.2 intensive care beds per 10,000 residents in Tunis, compared to 0 in Tataouine.

President Kais Saied, who visited France on Monday, had met activists from Tataouine in January and urged them to propose project ideas without waiting for the state.

The government “wants to step on us”

Tunisian Minister of Employment, Fethi Belhaj, assured in an interview with a private radio that the government had committed to respecting “all agreements” from 2017. “Demonstrators’ demands are legitimate (…) provided it does not hinder government institutions,” he added he.

“The government has no intention of keeping its promises, it wants to step on us,” accused Khalifa Bouhaouech, a member of the El Kamour sit-in coordination. “We have been sending letters (…) to government officials for a while but we have not received a response, so the solution is to go back to protest,” he said.

With Reuters and AFP