A general strike protesting the economic and social situation on the island of Kerkennah (Governorate of Sfax) was widely observed and saw classes suspended and businesses closed on Tuesday, April 12 one week after security forces and local protesters clashed during the dispersal of production blocking protests at the Petrofac natural gas production facility.
A march organized during the strike by the north Sfax branch of the Tunisian General Trade Union-UGTT, called for regional economic development, the release of four protesters detained since the dispersal of the Petrofac sit in last week and demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Habib Essid.
Hedi Ben Jomaa, Secretary General of the local union office said their were positive signs from the Ministry of the Interior regarding the release of the four detained protesters.
Perhaps signaling a denouement, Ahmed Souissi, coordinator of the local Union of Unemployed Graduates (UDC-Union de Diplome Chomeurs) in Kerkennah, said the lifting of road blocks targeting Petrofac vehicles was contingent upon the release of the detained protesters.
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT-Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens) denounced what it called a ‘barbaric attack’ after two journalists from Nessma TV were assaulted while covering the strike and received minor injuries. Ministry of the Interior spokesman, Yasser Mesbah, said footage of the incident revealed the aggressors were known to security forces and promised an investigation.
It is unclear what association, if any, the perpetrators of the assault on the Nessma TV journalists had with the march or the protest.
The general strike was called on Sunday, April 10, after police used tear gas to disperse protesters who threw stones and used tires to block a road outside Melita to resist attempts to break up a sit in inside the UK based oil company Petrofac’s Kerkennah production facility which has halted all production since January of this year.
Faced with the loss incurring protests, Petrofac has canceled plans to exploit two oil fields off the shore of Kerkennah which it says would have brought 1,000 jobs to the island and has repeatedly signaled it may pull out of Tunisia entirely if its capacity to operate cannot be assured by the Tunisian government.