TUNIS, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Protesters calling for jobs have brought Tunisia’s entire phosphate output to a halt by staging sit-ins at installations of sole Tunisian phosphates producer, the state-run Gafsa Phosphate (CPG), an official said on Thursday.
Though such protests at CPG sites are frequent, this action come after weeks of unrest in Tunisia sparked by the government, under pressure from international lenders, implementing price and tax hikes to shrink the deficit.
Tunisia was once one of the world’s largest producers of phosphate minerals, which are used to make fertilizers, but its market share fell after a 2011 uprising against then president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
Since then, localised protests and strikes have steadily cut into production and caused billions of dollars in losses.
“Phosphate production is completely halted due of sit-ins of youths asking for jobs at the CPG,” CPG official Ali Houchati told Reuters.
“They are holding sit-in tents in front of production sites and preventing production and transporting phosphate”, he added.
Houchati said that Tunisia’s phosphates stocks were nearing depletion. Phosphate exports are a key source of foreign revenue for the North African country.
French President Emmanuel Macron, on a visit to Tunisia, is due to address parliament later on Thursday. France announced on Wednesday that it would provide Tunisia more than 272 million euros ($338 million) in new financing to bolster its democratic transition.
Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring: the one Arab country to topple a long-serving leader in that year’s uprisings without triggering widespread violence or civil war.
But Tunisia has had nine governments since Ben Ali’s overthrow, none of which have been able to resolve deep-rooted economic problems.
The economy has worsened since the vital tourism sector was nearly wiped out by a wave of deadly militant attacks in 2015, and has yet to recover despite improved security. (Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)