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Austria's OMV Moves Workers in Tunisia over Gas Field Protests

Source: Reuters 5/4/2017, Location: Africa

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Austrian energy company OMV has taken around 700 non-essential staff and contractors out of projects in southern Tunisia after protesters demanding jobs threatened to disrupt operations, the company said on Thursday.

Protesters in Tataouine near the Libyan border, where OMV and Italy's ENI have operations, have been camped out in the Sahara desert and threatening to blockade roads used by companies for their oil and gas fields.

"Approximately 700 non-essential field staff and contractors were safely demobilized on 29 April from both OMV operations and the Nawara Project in South Tunisia," the company said in a statement.

It said production had not been affected, although supplies were being limited because road transport of people and equipment was suspended for about ten days.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and are prepared to take further steps to maintain safety and security," it said.

A group of around 1,000 young men have camped out in the Sahara as part of the protest, demanding 20 percent of oil riches go back into the local economy and jobs. Tunisian officials are engaged in negotiations but there has been no agreement so far.

The demonstrations are the latest unrest to trouble Tunisia's government which is trying to enact economic reforms to reduce public spending and create more job growth, but it has struggled to make progress.

The IMF postponed payment of a $320 million tranche of Tunisia's loan programme due in December because of a lack of progress over reforms. It was released in April after the IMF and Tunisia agreed to a plan for priorities.

Held up as a model for democratic transition after its 2011 revolt against Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has free elections and a new constitution. But it has struggled to address the joblessness, marginalisation and corruption that helped trigger the uprising six years ago.

More economically damaging protests would come at a tough time. Tourism is just recovering from Islamist militant attacks two years ago, and the state phosphate business is back on track after several years of protests there slashed output.

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