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Tunisia protesters shut down pumping station: Local radio

Protesters have for weeks been threatening to blockade roads and shut gas production in southern Tunisia
Locals stage a sit-in outside el-Kamour petroleum pumping station in Tunisia's southern state of Tatatouine on 16 May (AFP)

Protesters in Tunisia closed an oil and gas installation in the south of the North African country on Saturday amid growing social tensions, an official radio station reported.

The shut-down comes after Tunisian troops fired shots in the air earlier in the day to disperse the protesters, who had been trying to close down the El Kamour gas and oil pumping station in southern Tatatouine province.

The action was part of the protesters demands for jobs, a witness and two local radio stations said on Saturday, and came after a 48-hour ultimatum by the protesters to the government to meet their demands.

Radio Tataouine said the station's closure came "after an agreement between the protesters and the forces of the national army".

There was no immediate reaction from the defence ministry.

There were also no immediate reports of any injuries around the station near Vana in Tatatouine, where troops have been stationed as part of plans to protect gas and oil facilities from disruption.

The protests in Tatatouine are challenging Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed as he seeks to implement austerity reforms.

The unrest has already forced two foreign energy companies to halt production or remove staff as a precaution.

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A military helicopter was circling overhead on Saturday. Pictures posted on a Facebook account of the Tatatouine movement showed dozens of young men at a metal fence near the station and a small group of troops lining up to protect it.

"The young men were angry and shouting about the need for work and the army fired in the air when they arrived at the pumping station. Troops are refusing to let them in," Jamal Daifallah, a local protester, told Reuters by telephone earlier in the day.

Around 1,000 protesters have been camped out for weeks in the Sahara in a region where Italy's ENI and Austria's OMV have operations. But government offers of jobs and development have so far failed to end the standoff.

Six years after its uprising ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali's autocratic rule, the North African state is still struggling to address the needs for jobs and economic opportunities in marginalised southern regions like Tatatouine.

Social unrest is common to demand work and development. In the past protesters have targetted Tunisia's strategic phosphate production. But the economy is just recovering from the impact of two major militant attacks on tourists in 2015.