May 31, 2015 / 12:12 PM / 5 years ago

Tunisia's phosphate production to resume after protests end

TUNIS (Reuters) - Phosphate production at Tunisia’s Metaloui partially resumed on Sunday and shipments restarted after protesters agreed to temporarily end their sit-in over job demands, the company said.

Metaloui, which produces around 60 percent of Tunisia’s phosphate output, has been closed by weeks of protests by local youths demanding employment and economic opportunities. Other plants in the south of the country have also been affected.

“Today production restarted at Metaloui after the ending of the sit-in by youths,” Ali Houchati, a spokesman for Phosphate Gafsa said. “Trains have started to transport phosphate again.”

Nacuer Saidi, one of the protesters, who is an unemployed civil engineer, said demonstrators had also agreed to end their sit-in in another phosphate mining town, Om Lrayes. He said they had agreed with the government to allow production to restart while they negotiated.

Tunisia produced about 8.26 million tonnes of phosphate in 2010, but in the four years since 2011 output totalled only 11.2 million tonnes, hit by strikes and protests.

During the first five months of 2015, it produced 650,000 tonnes compared with 1.3 million in the same period last year.

Four towns in Tunisia’s main phosphate-producing region began a general strike earlier in May to protest against unemployment, a major complaint among Tunisians since their 2011 uprising ousted Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

The southern protests have been a major challenge to government efforts to revive the economy after Tunisia completed its transition to democracy following the 2011 revolt. Many Tunisians believe the government has yet to deliver on its economic promises.

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