(GIN) – More than a thousand protestors who camped out for weeks near a pipeline in the Sahara have accepted a new offer by the government that would provide thousands of new jobs in oil and gas.
The protestors had rejected earlier job offers because the jobs were not immediate. “These unemployed youths cannot wait,” said Tarek Haddad, one of the protest leaders in a video message on Facebook.
When hundreds of protestors tried to take over a gas pumping station, a confrontation with the army was inevitable. President Beji Caid Essebsi ordered soldiers into the area to protect energy and phosphate production. Security forces fired tear gas into the crowd in an effort to retake two oil pumping stations occupied by the protestors.
“We are just demanding jobs, and more transparency about where the oil wealth goes,” Faker Ajmi, one of the protesters told Reuters.
Tunisia is a small oil and gas player with production at about 44,000 barrels per day. The oil pipelines are used by the Italian ENI and Austrian OMV companies.
The government’s earlier offer was for 1,500 jobs with energy companies, including 1,000 immediately and 500 next year. Officials also offered 2,000 jobs in horticulture and environmental projects as well as $20 million to develop projects in the region.
“We want seriously to find solutions for the expectations of the protesters, but sometimes there are more demands than possibilities,” Marbouk Korchid, a senior official in the government said. “There are some exaggerated demands.”
In response to the controversy, OMV removed 700 non-essential staff as a precaution. French company Perenco halted production at its Targa and Baguel fields, while protests closed Canada-based Serinus Energy’s Chouech Essaida field.
The new agreement allows production to restart immediately. “This addresses all our demands,” said protest leader Haddad. The deal calls for 1,500 jobs in oil companies, a budget of $32 million for a development fund and another 3,000 jobs in environmental projects.
Six years after an uprising ousted Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali as part of the Arab Spring revolts, Tunisia is praised as a model of transition. But it still struggles to address demands for jobs and opportunities in marginalized regions.