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Tunisian police fire tear gas on protesters in southern city

TUNISIAN police fired tear gas on protesters yesterday after hundreds tried to storm a government headquarters in the southern city of Tataouine to protest against the government’s failure to provide jobs, witnesses said.

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.

The protests increase pressure on the government, which is suffering a political crisis from a power struggle between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and President Kais Saied. Tunisia saw violent protests in January and February but had been comparatively quiet in March.

Tuesday’s protesters tried to enter to the government building to stage a sit-in and demand the resignation of the governor, but police blocked them, used tear gas to disburse them, and pursued them in the streets.

Witnesses reached by telephone said protesters threw stones at police and burned tyres.

Tunisia was the only country to emerge with a democracy from the “Arab Spring” revolts that swept North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. But a decade after a popular revolution ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, the country is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to young people, particularly in deprived regions such as Tataouine.

In 2017, protests over a lack of jobs in Tataouine and Kebili provinces hit oil and natural gas production in a region where French firm Perenco and Austria’s OMV operate. That led to a deal promising jobs in oil and development projects, but protesters say it has not been implemented.