Protesters calling for jobs halt Tunisia's phosphate output

FILE PHOTO: A bulldozer works at a phosphate mines in Metlaoui, Tunisia April 6, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File

TUNIS (Reuters) - Protesters calling for jobs have brought Tunisia’s phosphate output to a halt by staging sit-ins at state-run Gafsa Phosphate (CPG), the country’s sole producer, a company official said on Wednesday.

The protests are one of the first tests for the new government of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfkah, who said last month that raising phosphate production would be one of his priorities.

Tunisia was once one of the world’s largest producers of phosphate minerals, which are used to make fertilisers, but its market share fell after a 2011 uprising against then president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Since then, localised protests and strikes have steadily cut into production and caused billions of dollars in losses.

The company official told Reuters that dozens of young unemployed people were holding sit-ins in production sites at Al-Mitlaoui, Mdhila and Om Lrayes, hitting phosphate output.

Tunisia produced about 8.2 million tonnes of phosphate in 2010. That had dropped to 3.8 million tonnes last year‮ ‬and production is expected to be 4.5 million tonnes this year.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Potter