Protests heat up near Iraq's West Qurna-2 oilfield

Tue Apr 16, 2013 11:21am EDT

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* Locals protest at Iraq giant oilfield

* Protesters seek jobs, work benefits

By Aref Mohammed

BASRA, Iraq, April 16 (Reuters) - Hundreds of local protesters blocked a main entrance of Iraq's giant southern West Qurna-2 oilfield on Tuesday, operated by Russia's LUKOIL, demanding jobs in a sign of the growing challenges facing foreign firms operating in the south.

Local communities and tribes in Iraq, where foreign oil companies are developing the OPEC nation's vast energy reserves, periodically protest to squeeze companies for jobs and other work benefits.

Around 500 angry protesters gathered at the main entrance, demanding Lukoil supply jobs and compensation for land where it operates. Police said the situation was under control and demonstrators did not try to break into the field.

"We are protesting to get our rights. We have decided to block the entrance until field officials address our demands," said Mizhir al-Rwemi, a spokesman for protesters.

An official at the state-run South Oil Company said it was not the first such protest. "We are trying to deal discretely with them," the official said.

Iraqi oil police officials said security measures were tightened around the oilfield to prevent protesters from getting inside where employees, including from Russia's Lukoil were working on developments operations.

Hundreds of protesters broke into West Qurna-2 oilfield early last month, smashing offices of an Iraqi company hired by Samsung Engineering before trying to break into the South Korean builder's headquarters.

More than 1,000 employees from the South Oil Co. also demonstrated to demand higher salaries and permanent contracts with the company, officials and protesters said.

Ten years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, Iraq's energy installations are still struggle with various challenges, including attacks on oil pipelines and facilities.

Earlier this month, Gunmen attacked a contracting company in Iraq's Akkas gasfield, killing at least three local workers and kidnapping two more before burning their camp in the remote western desert. (Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Patrick Markey and William Hardy)

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