The Assembly of the Representatives of the People’s (ARP) Security and Defense Committee has requested a hearing with Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub over the recent events on the island of Kerkennah (Governorate of Sfax) after violent clashes over the weekend saw regular security forces withdraw from the island to be relieved by Tunisian Army units.
Tensions which had been simmering since unemployed protesters threw stones and used tires to block a road outside Mellita on the island of Kerkennah, Governorate of Sfax) after police used tear gas to disperse a production blocking sit in protest inside a natural gas production facility on Kerkennah run by UK based oil company Petrofac, when negotiations to end the three month long sit in failed and security forces moved in during the early morning hours of Monday, April 4.
Tensions boiled over late Thursday, April 14, local security forces used tear gas to disperse protesters blocking road access outside the town of Mellita to six trucks from Petrofac attempting to access the Port of Sidi Youssef.
On Friday violence renewed at Sidi Youssef as, according to the Ministry of the Interior, a group of 250 protesters engaged security forces by burning tires, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. After security forces lost control of the situation two National Guard offices and a police center at the port of Sidi Youssef were burned as well as three security vehicles, while a fourth security vehicle, a security bus which appear to have been intended to transport detained protesters, was pushed into the Mediterranean.
Security personnel on the island then withdrew and were relieved by army units from the mainland. Since the arrival of the army on Friday, the rest of the weekend saw a precarious calm restored to Kerkennah. Six members of the local security forces were injured the number of protesters and other residents injured of the island injured either in direct clashes or by tear gas has not been specified.
The clashes came two days after the Tunisian General Trade Union (UGTT- regional Sfax office) organized a general strike and held a march protesting the economic and social situation on the island of Kerkennah and the use of force to break up the Petrofac sit in and demanding the release of four protesters detained since the Petrofac sit in was broken up.
The general strike and related march saw classes suspended and businesses closed on Tuesday, April 12, and although two journalists from Nessma TV were assaulted and received minor injuries including a broken nose, in what the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT-Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens) denounced as a ‘barbaric attack’ there were no incidences of violence between marchers and security forces.
The four protesters detained during the breakup of the initial sit-in on April 3 and detained since, were subsequently released from detention in Sfax over the weekend. The General Prosecutor at the Court of Appeal of Sfax, Mohamed Abid, said the decision was the result of standard legal procedures and not influenced by the events on Kerkennah or related to protesters’ demands for their release.
On Monday, Messaoud Amor the Director General of Public Security said regular security forces had returned and the police station in El Ataya in Kerkennah was operating normally.
Amor added that the department was investigating reports and information it had received regarding the excessive use of tear gas against demonstrators.