Protesters in Tunisia halt key phosphate production

Demonstrators calling for jobs launched sit-ins at state-run Gafsa Phospate, the sole national producer of the mineral.

Protesters calling for jobs demonstrated on Wednesday launching sit-ins at state-run Gafsa Phospate [File: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

Protesters calling for jobs stopped Tunisia’s entire phosphate output on Wednesday by launching sit-ins at the sole producer of the key export during a day of strikes and protests around the country, officials and witnesses told Reuters News Agency.

State-run Gafsa Phospate was once one of the world’s largest producers of phosphate minerals, which are used to make fertilisers and is an important source of foreign currency for the North African state.

The open-ended sit-ins increased pressure on the government amid a wave of protests a decade after a 2011 uprising that ended the rule of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered Arab Spring protests across the region.

Tunisia’s phosphate output fell after the uprising and localised protests and strikes have since steadily cut into production and caused billions of dollars in losses.

In the southern town of Gafsa, dozens of young men earlier stormed the governorate headquarters, demanding jobs. Workers in the northern city of Beja also staged a one-day general strike, with all shops and public private institutions closed.

The government has pledged to respond to the demands of marginalised regions, but is facing its worst-ever financial crisis with a budget deficit expected to reach 11.4 percent of GDP.