Tunisia southern gas protests tense as negotiations falter
* Protesters refusing job offer package
* Two gas companies have halted output
* Army is protecting strategic sites
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, May 18 (Reuters) - Tunisian protesters threatening to blockade gas production in the south of the country on Thursday rejected a government offer of jobs and investment and moved their protest closer to a pipeline and pumping station.
The protests in southern Tatatouine are testing Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's government and have already forced two foreign energy companies to halt production or remove staff as a precaution because of threats of disruption.
Six years after Tunisia's revolution ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali's autocratic rule, the North African state is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to unemployed youth in marginalised regions like Tatatouine.
Around 1,000 protesters have been camped out for weeks in the Sahara near a gas pipeline in a region where Italy's ENI and Austria's OMV have operations. But government attempts to broker a deal with job offers have so far failed.
"We will not accept the offers of the government because these jobs are not immediate. These unemployed youths can not wait," said Tarek Haddad, one of the protest leaders, in a video message on Facebook. Continued...