July 16, 2020 / 7:02 PM / a month ago

Tunisia protesters close main oil pumping station in the south

TUNIS, July 16 (Reuters) - Tunisian demonstrators shut an oil pumping station that feeds a coastal terminal on Thursday, escalating weeks of protests for jobs in the marginalized southern region of Tatouine, witnesses told Reuters.

The move places further pressure on Tunisian leaders already struggling with political deadlock following the resignation on Wednesday of prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh and an attempt by several parties to oust parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi.

Protesters are calling on the government to implement a 2017 deal to create jobs in oil companies and infrastructure projects to reduce unemployment now running at 30% in the region, one of the highest rates in Tunisia.

Despite the presence of the army protecting petroleum installations, hundreds of protesters insisted on closing Tunisia’s main Saharan pumping station at Kamour.

Tunisia produces only about 44,000 barrels per day (bpd). Protesters have been camped out in the Sahara since last week in a region where Italy’s ENI and Austria’s OMV have operations.

The closure of the pumping station follows clashes last month between police and job-seeking protesters in Tataouine.

A decade after a popular revolution ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, the North African state is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to unemployed young people in deprived regions like Tataouine.

Investment minister Slim Azzabi said on Monday that Tunisia had asked four countries to delay loan repayments expected this year, as it announced more pessimistic budget forecasts for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The request underscores the dire condition of Tunisia’s public finances, already a source of concern before the coronavirus crisis pummelled the global economy.

Reporting By Tarek Amara, Editing by William Maclean

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