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Tunisia Military to Protect Southern Oil, Gas Fields

Source: Reuters 4/30/2017, Location: Africa

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Tunisia will deploy troops in a southern region to protect oil facilities against attacks from militants in neighbouring Libya, in an area where protesters are threatening to blockade transport routes to demand jobs, it said on Saturday.

The North African state has suffered four major attacks in the last two years, including two gun assaults on foreign tourists and an attack in a border town by Islamic State fighters who crossed the border from Libya.

Since its 2011 revolution to overthrow autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has struggled to meet demands of poorer, central and southern regions where unemployed youths have frequently protested to demand more development projects.

The ministry of defence said the army "would protect strategic sites and oilfields" around Tataouine province, a desert are known for tourism that borders Libya.

It gave no details on any specific threat to any companies or of what reinforcements were planned.

Several foreign oil and gas companies are involved in projects around Tataouine province, including Italy's ENI , Vienna-based OMV and the Italo-Tunisian SITEP.

Tataouine has been the site of several weeks of demonstrations and sit-ins by young protesters demanding work and more development for their region. They have threatened to blockade routes used for transport by energy companies.

A government source said transport routes were still open in Tataouine.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed this week travelled to Tataouine for talks with protesters, who set up camp in the desert near routes to oilfields. He offered 1,000 jobs as well as infrastructure projects. But protesters said it was not enough.

"We want jobs for this marginalised region, we want jobs in the oil companies," Tarek Hadad, one of the protest organisers, told Reuters by telephone.

After the 2011 uprising, Tunisia has been praised as a model of democratic transition by holding free elections and passing a new constitution. But economic development has not followed.

State-run phosphate production was disrupted repeatedly after 2011 by protesters wanting work, and British energy company Petrofac threatened to close down last year after prolonged disruption of its gas transport because of blockades.

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