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Protesters and police clash in Tunisia mining basin

Protesters are again chanting 2011 slogans of Arab Spring amid wave of unrest over persisting poverty and unemployment
Unemployed Tunisians at phosphate plant in Metlaoui mining region in early March after month-long strike (AGP)

Tunisian police used tear gas on Sunday to disperse dozens of protesters demanding jobs and development in a mining town in the centre of the country. 

"Work, freedom, national dignity," protesters chanted in Mdhilla, demanding that a portion of revenues produced from phosphate mining in the region be allocated to its development. 

Protesters are again chanting the 2011 slogans of the Arab Spring uprising amid a wave of unrest over persisting poverty and unemployment, as anger has risen over new austerity measures after a year of rising prices.

Tensions began on Friday after a ministerial meeting aimed at finding solutions to the mining basin's economic crisis. 

On Saturday night, police fired tear gas at protesters who tried to block trains that were transporting phosphate.

Sunday's protest, attended by many young men and women, broke down into clashes after some demonstrators threw stones at police, who again used tear gas to disperse the crowd.  

Although rich in phosphate - which is used to make fertilisers - Tunisia's mining basin is one of the poorest regions in the country, and social unrest is common. 

Phosphate production, a key sector of the Tunisian economy, resumed earlier this month after protests blocked exports at mines for almost six weeks. 

Friday's ministerial meeting in Tunisia's Gafsa region, attended by Finance Minister Ridha Chalghoum, came in response to accusations by residents that the state was "absent". 

Insufficient measures

But the measures announced at the end of the meeting, including the construction of a power station, were deemed insufficient by protesters, who reacted with roadblocks. 

Policy decisions that might alleviate the pressure from marginalised sections of society, such as those in poor urban areas or disenfranchised regions, have not yet been made, according to a report from Chatham House last week.

Successive governments have sought to forestall social and economic concerns by implementing temporary measures, but these policies have ultimately served to exacerbate anger and feelings of exclusion, the report said.

The Gafsa Phosphate Company is one of the world's leading phosphate producers. Its chief mines are in the towns of Metlaoui, Redeyef, Om Laarayes and Mdhilla. 

The mining basin was the theatre of a 2008 insurrection brutally put down by former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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