Police, job-seeking protesters clash in Tunisian city of Tataouine

TUNIS (Reuters) - Demonstrators threw stones at police and blocked roads in the southern Tunisian city of Tataouine on Monday, drawing salvoes of tear gas to disperse them, in an escalation of protests over high unemployment, witnesses said.

Protesters are calling on the government to implement a 2017 deal to create jobs in oil companies and infrastructure projects to reduce unemployment now running at 30% in the region, one of the highest rates in Tunisia.

A decade after a popular revolution ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, the North African state is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to unemployed young people in deprived regions like Tataouine.

“The situation is dangerous in our area. From the window of my home I see police forces randomly launching (tear) gas and chasing young men,” Ismail Smida, a resident, told Reuters.

Another witness said police skirmished with hundreds of demonstrators throwing stones, blocking roads and chanting, “We will not give up, we want our right to development and jobs.”

In 2017, protests over a lack of jobs in Tataouine and Kebili provinces hit oil and natural gas production in a region where French firm Perenco and Austria’s OMV operate led to a deal promising jobs in oil and development projects.

But protesters say that after three years the agreement has not been implemented.

Tunisia was the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled autocrats from power in countries across North Africa and the Middle East, but the only one to achieve a transition to full democracy.

Since then, however, Tunisia’s economy has been in crisis and no government has managed to resolve chronic problems including high inflation, unemployment and corruption.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich