Protester killed in Tunisia at gas site near Tatouine

Mon 29 May 2017

Protester killed in Tunisia at gas site near Tatouine

The protests that have been going on the last month in the South of Tunisia have ended with a clash after one of the protesters was killed by a vehicle of the security forces. The 25-year old man was crushed during a sit-in at the gas site of El-Kamour near Tatouine on Monday 22 May. The protests where initially non-violent sit-ins at several areas where petrol is produced, but it came to a clash after security forces were sent to the area by the government on the 10th of May. President Béji Caïd Essebsi had asked the National Guard to protect the sites from possible blockages by the protesters, limiting the gas transport from the stations where foreign companies such as the French Perenco operate. The protests evolved around social and economic development in the region. Protesters demanded a better distribution of wealth and priority recruitment by the oil companies: The rural south has always been less developed than the urban North of Tunisia, and inhabitants often feel neglected by the authorities in Tunis.

It is not clear which side provoked the eventual confrontation between the protesters and the state. According to some, the decision of the authorities to send the National Guard was meant to cause a clash: On Sunday evening 21 May, the Ministry of Defence had threatened protesters with legal proceedings and warned that the military could use force. According to others, the protests were very calm until some of the protesters decided to penetrate one of the gas sites on Saturday 20 May. What is clear is that the protests resulted in violence on Monday the 22nd. A police station and a station of the National Guard were set on fire, and 20 members of the National Guard were injured. Among the protesters at least 50 people were injured, also due to the use of tear gas by the National Guard. Thousands of people joined the funeral of the killed protester the following day. Many others went to the streets in nearby city Tozeur but also in capital Tunis to support the protests of El Kamour and to denounce the police aggression which led to the death of the protester.

Several authorities have reacted to the incident. The Minister of Vocational Training and Employment Imed Hammami and the spokesman of the National Guard Khalifa Chibani dismissed the protests as dangerous, explaining the presence of the National Guard on site. According to the Minister, the protests were not only aimed at development and better employment, but also to destabilize Tunisia and to postpone the local elections. He claimed that the protest was organised and supported by several “bankrupt” opposition parties and activists. While local governor Mohamed Ali Barhoumi agreed there was “a dangerous plot” he announced his resignation a few days later on the 24th of May, for “personal reasons”. The liberal party Afek Tones denounced the vandalism as well, and asked for an investigation into the circumstances of the protests: They warned against the radicalization of protest movements and the instrumentalisation by some political parties of the protesters' legitimate demands. This is a different sound from which were given a month earlier by some of the opposition parties. Ennahda, Ettakatol, Al Joumhouri, Al Chaab, Al Amal and different branches of different Unions said in a joint statement on 24 April that they support the movement in El Kamour and their sit-in to block certain roads, also reflecting that there can be road if transport is hindered too much’. In a reaction on the events, Ennahda condemns the vandalism, but says that dialogue should be resumed between the authorities and the protesters.

Several media sources have reported that the situation is calm again, after the activities around the funeral came to an end. Yet, the situation in Tunisia remains fragile, especially as the death resulted in country-wide support for the protesters.

Sources: Business News, ShemFM1, ShemFM2, Huffington Post Maghreb 1, Huffington Post Maghreb 2, RFI, Al Jazeera