TUNIS, May 20 — Tunisian soldiers fired warning shots into the air today to stop demonstrators from storming a gas and oil pumping station in the south of the country, official media said.
The incident comes more than a week after President Beji Caid Essebsi said the army will protect key installations in the North African country from being disrupted by protests over social and labour issues.
Radio Tataouine said soldiers fired warning shots “twice” when a group of demonstrators clamouring for jobs tried to bring down a metal fence to enter El Kamour pumping station and shut it down.
The protesters had been camping outside the station to demand more jobs and a bigger share of the revenues from oil extraction in the region.
El Kamour is in the southern province of Tataouine which has been rocked in recent weeks by protests over unemployment and poverty, and perceived marginalisation of the country's periphery.
In April, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed travelled to the region in an attempt to address concerns but was shouted down and forced to leave a heated town hall meeting.
Dozens of protesters interrupted Chahed's speech with cries of “Work! Freedom! National Dignity!” — a slogan from the 2011 uprising that brought down veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
Similar protests have rocked other parts of Tunisia, mainly in inland regions, with demonstrators often staging sit-ins to block access to key sites.
Faced by growing social discontent, Essebsi on May 10 announced his decision to task the army with protecting vital installations.
He said the army would put an end to roads being blocked, adding that “from now on the army will protect the sources” of Tunisia's production.
“I warn you from now” that dealing with the military will become “difficult”, Essebsi said. — AFP